Groups discuss trails, signs for safer school routes

Published 11:14 am Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Austin educators and residents speak with engineering experts on suggestions for safer school routes at a Vision 2020 Safe Routes to Schools forum Monday inside I.J. Holton Intermediate School.  Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com

Austin educators and residents speak with engineering experts on suggestions for safer school routes at a Vision 2020 Safe Routes to Schools forum Monday inside I.J. Holton Intermediate School.
Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com

Austin residents got the first look at some fixes to let more students walk to school Monday during a Safe Routes to Schools forum at I.J. Holton Intermediate School.

The forum, put on by Vision 2020 and engineering experts from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, allowed parents, educators and community members to give feedback on ways to make it safer for students to walk and bike to Austin’s public schools.

“We were very pleased with the turnout,” said Vision 2020’s Director of Vision Creation Laura Helle.

Vision 2020’s Bike/Walk Committee has worked with MnDOT’s Safe Routes to Schools program over the past few months to identify ways to get more walking and biking participation. The group sought public input to create a draft of recommendations the city of Austin could use to make things safer for students.

That could mean more visible signage and a few new trails. Experts recommended new signs or flashing beacons for every elementary school, as well as Ellis Middle School and Holton.

In addition, the city could finish sidewalks near some schools, such as 15th Street Southwest between Third and Fourth Avenue near Banfield Elementary School or 16th Avenue Southwest between 16th and 18th Streets near Southgate Elementary School.

None of the recommendations are final, as the group wanted parents to have input on where schools and the community could best change to keep students safe.

“If you just drive past, you might not be aware of the issues,” Bike/Walk Committee Co-Chair Steven Kime said.

Austin Public Schools officials welcome the initiative as a chance to bring more safety education to students and better transportation solutions.

“The traffic study is an important piece to keeping our kids safe,” Ellis Principal Jason Senne said. “We now have 1,500 kids coming to this location [Ellis and Holton] every day.”

Helle said MnDOT will likely release a draft of its recommendations in May, with a finalized plan later this summer. Officials hope to start work on recommendations by the fall.