By now, Eureka residents may have noticed the infrastructure improvements recently installed on F Street, G Street, and Oak Street near Grant Elementary School. New sidewalks, crosswalks, a pedestrian median, and signage were constructed and placed over the summer to create a safer walking and bicycling environment for students traveling to and from school.
A walkability audit conducted at Grant in 2012 brought together engineers, law enforcement, school administrators, and community members to assess pedestrian facilities and surroundings along and near the school and identify specific improvements to make the route more safe and attractive to pedestrians of all ages and abilities. The recommendations for the new improvements came directly from the walkability audit and were funded through a Federal Safe Routes to School (SRTS) grant program.
Now Grant Elementary is seeking the community’s help to fully realize the benefits of the new pedestrian improvements!
SRTS is a national movement and funding program that encourages students to safely walk or bicycle to school by removing barriers that prevent them from doing so. Humboldt County has been actively engaged in SRTS efforts for over five years with two local SRTS Task Forces, one in Eureka and the other representing schools countywide.
Another safety feature the Grant Elementary community asked for during the walkability assessment was the presence of crossing guards. Working with the Eureka SRTS Task Force and the Redwood Community Action Agency, the Humboldt County DHHS Public Health Branch applied for and received SRTS funding to develop and implement a countywide crossing guard program. The program includes the training of existing crossing guards, pedestrian and bicycle safety education for students, and the creation of a pilot volunteer crossing guard program at Grant Elementary School. Community partners have been working hard to develop a program that is effective and meets the liability concerns of the city, county, and school district. The problem is that the program needs more volunteers. Many Grant parents and community members have stepped up and have been trained, however, the program still lacks enough afternoon volunteer crossing guards to officially kick off the program.
Gone are the days when the majority of students walked to school. In fact, 66 percent of Humboldt County students are driven to school in a private vehicle compared with only 13 percent who were driven to school just one generation ago. At the same time, the percentage of overweight and obese children has risen dramatically. SRTS uses a combination of engineering, education, encouragement, evaluation and enforcement strategies to encourage safe walking and biking to school.
Do you have an hour to share one or more days a week by being a crossing guard and helping encourage safe, active children get to school by their own? Encouraging students to walk and bike to school not only gives them the physical activity they need daily to be healthy, it also helps reduce traffic congestion, (especially in school zones) and builds a sense of self-sufficiency. Reducing car trips also contributes to a cleaner environment by lowering carbon emissions from motor vehicles.
For more information on the Redwood Crossing Guard Program or to sign up as a volunteer, please contact Mellody Mallick, Health Education Specialist for the Humboldt County DHHS Public Health Branch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call 707-441-5549.
Jenny Weiss is a Senior Planner for the Natural Resources Services Division of the Redwood Community Action Agency and has worked on SRTS in Humboldt County for the past 5 years.