Grant will fund local coordinator making it safer for kids to walk and bike to school

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has announced that Grand Rapids and Keewatin elementary schools are the recipients of a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) local coordinator funding grant. The local coordinator will develop engagement events and help increase walking and bicycling education in schools, resulting in increased physical activity and safer means for kids to walk and bike to school.

“Our vision is for Itasca County school districts to promote and encourage walking or bicycling to and from school as a normal, fun, healthy, and safe way for students to travel,” said Itasca Area Community Education Director Melanie DeBay. “And, the program will also help develop safety skills and healthy habits in kids.”  

The grant provides the area with a Safe Routes to School Coordinator, who will be employed by Itasca Area Community Education. The schools receiving the grant include Keewatin Elementary, Southwest Elementary, Murphy Elementary and Forest Lake Elementary.

Both Grand Rapids and Keewatin communities have created Safe Routes to School. The grant coordinator will facilitate additional safety mitigation activities: Trail and lighting infrastructure, community pedestrian safety campaigns, school policies and procedures, enforcing school safety zones (with radar/speed signs), and recruiting volunteers for crossing assistance.

“The SRTS Coordinator will participate with the ISD 318’s elementary school design teams to craft policies and procedures for the new elementary schools that ensure safe, active transportation routes are planned and implemented when the new schools open,” said DeBay.

The Coordinator will work with district stakeholders to create policies and procedures for SRTS to be implemented in the existing schools and to prepare parents, students and staff to use these procedures when the new schools open.

“We’re very excited to have the opportunity to provide this benefit to elementary students in both districts,” said DeBay.

“Increasing the safety of children walking and biking not only improves health, but school attendance and academic achievement as well,” said Dave Cowan, MnDOT Safe Routes coordinator, in a press release. ”Many school districts have a strong desire to support Safe Routes strategies, but limited staff time and resources are challenges. A local coordinator can transform school culture around walking and biking, ensuring more students arrive to school focused and ready to learn.”

Grand Rapids school district is one of six Minnesota public school districts that will benefit from more than $1 million in Safe Routes to Schools local coordinator funding grants. Other grant recipients include Saint Paul Public Schools, South Saint Paul Public Schools, New Ulm Public Schools, Richfield Public Schools and Rochester Public Schools.

Safe Routes to School is an international program that seeks to increase physical activity, improve health and reduce traffic congestion around schools by making it safer and easier for students to walk and bicycle to school.

MnDOT awarded $2.3 million in Safe Routes to School planning assistance and infrastructure grants in April 2019. These grants are funded with federal Safe Routes to School dollars. Since 2005, MnDOT awarded more than $38 million in federal and state funds to communities to support Safe Routes to School. The majority of funding was awarded for infrastructure projects. The remainder was allocated for programs and planning that promote walkable and bikeable communities.

The Safe Routes to School grant will fund the coordinator position for three years. More information on Safe Routes to School is available at www.mndot.gov/saferoutes.

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