Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Safe Routes to School in Fairfax County

FABB was part of a group that recently gave a presentation on Safe Routes to School to the Fairfax Co Board of Supervisors. Below is a summary of the presentation.

Safe Routes to School Presentation to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
February 1, 2011
Gina Arlotto, WABA/Greater Washington SRTS Network organizer, Julie Childers, Trails for Youth, Fionnuala Quinn and Bruce Wright, FABB, Jeff Anderson, Wolf Trap Elementary School

Gina Arlotto gave an overview of the SRTS program including:
• The health benefits of the program
• The increase in U.S. obesity levels during the same time that walking and biking rates to school have declined
• Some of the problems associated with parents driving kids to school
• How the school system is fostering this behavior by providing Kiss & Ride lots, using Marshall Road Elementary School as an example
• The $13 million in SRTS funds available in Virginia, of which Fairfax Co has received $10,000.

Discussion/Questions from the Board:

Supervisor Smyth stated that Marshall Road is unusual in that the I-66 ramp complicates access to the schools. The majority of the other Supervisors noted that similar problems exist at schools in their districts. Supervisor McKay pointed out that SRTS funds can help overcome some of these access problems. Supervisor Hudgins stated that if we did a better job of planning our schools and integrating them into the larger community we could prevent some of these problems. She also stated that the two Boards (SOB and SB) should have this as their goal.

Trying to cross Nutley Street at Marshall Road
Supervisor Hudgins asked how SRTS applications are handled in other jurisdictions. For Infrastructure grants, it’s common for the Transportation or Public Works Departments to oversee the grants. Non-Infrastructure grants are usually generated and coordinated by the school system or private entities. The county has a list of needed sidewalk projects and we should look at these as possible SRTS grant candidates.

Kathy Ichter, DOT chief, stated that DOT is OK with doing the engineering assessments for grants but they need the schools to coordinate. She suggested that the county should look at all schools and develop a priority list as the basis of future grants. Supervisor McKay said that we know some schools where we can start and we don’t want to wait for a long study before beginning the process. He also thought that schools must already have a travel plan that can be used to begin the process but we noted that the SRTS travel plan is more extensive and needs additional work including a parent survey.

Supervisor Cook agreed with Supervisor McKay in that we know parents at some schools are ready to begin the grant process and we should begin there. Supervisor Cook also said that we ought to be flexible to get things implemented.

Supervisor Hyland asked who makes the application. He also remarked that most PTA’s and principals probably don’t know that this program exists and that we should meet with them to get their support. We noted that we are beginning the process through Jeff Anderson’s contacts with the Fairfax County Council of PTAs.

Supervisor McKay wanted to know who is the primary contact now and stated that we need to get the point person identified for this effort. Chris Wells, the DOT ped coordinator, and Doug O’Neill of FCPS are both doing SRTS-related work. Chris said that the schools set policies and these heavily influence SRTS activities.

Supervisor Gross asked if grants can be used to fund maintenance such as adding ADA ramps, repairing damaged sidewalks and snow removal. If facilities need to be reconstructed, yes grants cover those costs. Periodic maintenance costs such as snow clearing or bike lane sweeping are not covered.

Supervisor Smyth said we should be sure that projects selected are feasible and don’t require purchase of extensive right of way, tree removal, and other obstacles.

Chairman Bulova said she would like to come out of the meeting with a decision on how to proceed. It was suggested that staff develop criteria for selecting schools and present to the Board, that DOT and FCPS meet to develop some operating procedures to figure out how to facilitiate the grant process. At a later date the larger SRTS community, such as the police, Health Department, other health advocates, and others can become involved in the process.

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As a parent of a Marshall Road ES student, I just wanted to say thanks for sharing this item. My wife is one of the few people who actually walks the kids to school in almost any weather, and she marvels at the line at the Kiss and Ride, particularly when it's folks who live even closer than us!

One of the things that I feel like should be addressed is that, due to the I-66/Nutley St issue, NONE of the Marshall Road students are allowed to ride their bikes/scooters to school. Many kids ride their scooters to the edge of school property and ditch them in the woods until the end of the school day, so clearly there is the desire there, we just need to support it.

Thanks again for the presentation, and all your work on this topic.

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