MANKATO -?The Region Nine Development Commission learned on April 7 that it has been awarded federal funding for local Safe Routes to School planning from The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) for 2014-2016. The funding will cover planning efforts for all schools in New Ulm along with Blue Earth, Fairmont, Madelia, North Mankato/Eagle Lake and St. James.
According to the National Center for Safe Routes to School (SRTS), an SRTS program is an opportunity to make walking and bicycling to school safer and more accessible for children, including those with disabilities, and to increase the number of children who choose to walk and bicycle. On a broader level, SRTS programs can enhance children's health and well-being, ease traffic congestion near schools and improve air quality and improve community members' overall quality of life.
MnDOT has contracted with regional development commissions throughout the state to help ensure SRTS plans are appropriate and implemented. Region Nine Development Commission will oversee the planning process, with the City of New Ulm and the all the schools in New Ulm as partners. Planning will involve working with the schools and parents to identify how many children currently walk or bike to school, identify the barriers for walking and biking to the school and develop a plan to address those barriers and create a safe environment. The planning process will most likely start in July, depending on when the contract between MnDOT and Region Nine is finalized.
Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project (HONU) is also a partner in the planning process and recently commissioned a report from the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute (WALC) with specific, key recommendations for New Ulm. The report will provide the SRTS effort with key information to help move the planning and implementation process forward. A Safe Routes to School Action Team has been formed as part of HONU's newly formed Coalition for Active, Safe and Healthy Streets.
"Safe Routes to School is a great fit with our vision of improving the health of the entire New Ulm community," said HONU manager Cindy Winters. "We're very excited about increasing opportunities for children to walk and bike to school and creating a safe environment for them to do so. It will help improve our children's health and well-being, encourage the development of lifelong physical activity habits and foster the creation of a livable, sustainable community."
According to the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, the five "Es" of Safe Routes include: evaluation, engineering, education, encouragement and enforcement. Accordingly, New Ulm's plan will include providing education on pedestrian and bicycle safety, encouragement strategies to promote walking and biking, enforcement strategies to create a supportive walking and biking environment, evaluate the results of the efforts and make corrections as needed to the plan. It will also identify the engineering and infrastructure changes necessary to improve safety.
Region Nine will be responsible for developing the planning document and will have oversight of the project.