Wharton Borough, New Jersey, is a small town occupying about two square miles in Morris County. The borough has an elementary school and a middle school sharing the same building but run independently with different principals and starting times. The schools began a Safe Routes to School pilot program in 2005 with a $145,000 grant from the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority. The consultant team selected to conduct the pilot program was the RBA Group of Morristown, NJ. The schools in Wharton Borough were selected because Wharton is a compact community where students are not bussed to school and safe alternatives to driving were needed.
The first SRTS programs began at MacKinnon Middle and Duffy Elementary School, with the goal of encouraging more children to walk or bicycle to school. To begin the planning process, a community visioning workshop was held to discuss activities, route planning and infrastructure improvements with other community members, teachers, parents and students. The visioning workshop also helped to inform community members about programs involved with SRTS and the importance of the five E’s.
In October 2005, Wharton Borough kicked off its SRTS program with the annual Walk to School Day. The event was a huge success and attracted parents, teachers, community volunteers and 58 percent of the student body. The next year’s Walk to School Day attracted 70 percent of the student body to participate and local media coverage. Law enforcement officers participated in the Walk to School Days by increasing their presence around the schools to ensure the safety of the numerous children walking along the roads.
Another encouragement activity is an annual bicycle rodeo, which began in April 2006. The first bicycle rodeo was organized by a local Safe Kids group and was a huge success. Student council members from the sixth, seventh and eighth grade led the bicycle rodeo the following year. Before the event, the student council members met with a Safe Kids representative to learn how to run a bicycle rodeo. Safe Kids provided the supplies for the event, and the students worked the stations with the assistance of an adult volunteer. Each year the bicycle rodeo events are held on half days of school, so the students will attend the bicycle rodeo rather than leaving for home.
The educational component of this SRTS program included a curriculum workshop where a consultant presented teachers with lesson plans to be incorporated into daily learning. Directed at different grade levels, the lessons mostly focused on the environmental impacts and mathematics involved with walking to school. The teachers were given a binder of SRTS lesson plans to be used in upcoming school years. One completed educational activity was a walkability audit conducted by a seventh grade pre-algebra class. The class completed surveys and photographed routes around the school designated as safe routes by law enforcement officers. The results were used for exercises relevant to their pre-algebra studies.
In summer 2007, the New Jersey Department of Transportation announced the selection of MacKinnon Middle and Duffy Elementary to receive $337,000 in federal SRTS funds. These funds will pay for infrastructure improvements around the school, including a raised crosswalk at the three way intersection in front of the school and sidewalk extensions and repairs around the school grounds. The two schools also have received mini-grants from various local organizations, allowing them to give helmets to students and install two new bicycle racks at the schools. The SRTS program has gathered a great amount of support at the local, county and state level, and Wharton Borough declared the 2006 to 2007 school year as “Safe Routes to School Year.”