Safe Routes plan ready for approval

HOWLAND – A revised Safe Routes to School Plan aimed at increasing the number of students walking or biking to Howland Middle School is in its final stages before being sent to the state for funding.

The revisions shift the focus to correcting the intersection between East Market Street and Brewster Street. At a public work session to discuss the plan in December, many parents and faculty were disgruntled when the earlier version of the plan proposed an alternate drop-off / pick-up location for sixth- through eighth-graders at the neighboring high school parking lot.

The Safe Routes plan is being put together by Parsons Brickerhoff, a Cincinnati engineering firm, and fueled by a $5,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Consultants initially surveyed parents and walked the area. The main issues and concerns that the team gathered were regarding congestion during dismissal on Brewster Street and the high volume of traffic on state Route 46.

Consultants also took note of the intersection signals of Brewster Street and East Market Street. The signals are not up to state codes and are difficult for both pedestrians and drivers to see, according to the report.

The estimated cost for correcting the signals is $450,000.

A second high priority countermeasure of the plan includes changing the intersection of Willow Street, South Street and Brewster Street into a three-way stop. This $3,000 change would make the intersection more friendly for pedestrians through the addition of a crosswalk, officials said.

The proposed addition of sidewalks connecting close neighborhoods to the school total $376,000. Simpler changes include the addition of bike racks and school zone flashers.

Changes made to the plan after the December meeting include the additional sidewalks and nixing the alternate drop-off location.

“The plan is in its final form but not yet approved,” Zoning and Planning Director Kim Mascarella said.

Before the plan can be sent to ODOT for funding consideration, the Board of Education and the Board of Township Trustees must give it their stamps of approval. Mascarella said she believes the plan will be well accepted especially since members of both boards have been tracking with the program.

Even after the plan is submitted for the March 1 round of funding, it must compete with other schools around the state.

John Brigham, supervising traffic engineer from Parsons Brickerhoff, said, “They probably have just as good a chance as any (at receiving funding). Really, it’s up to ODOT.”

The state looks for plans that affect a large number of students at low costs, he said. This way they can spread the money across the state.

“We hope they can make updates – at least fix the pedestrian countdown signals at the minimum,” he said.

He said his firm has been working with about 13 schools across the state to devise Safe Routes to School Plans.

ODOT has $3.7 million dollars available for infrastructure changes in the 2015 fiscal year and $300,000 available for non-infrastructure changes in the 2014 fiscal year, with similar amounts for the following years.

Non-infrastructure changes that the middle school hopes to promote include a Walk or Bike to School Day, a BMX rider school assembly, and the promotion of ODOT’s “Every Move You Make, Keep It Safe” campaign.

Safe Route applicants can request up to $500,000 in infrastructure changes and $50,000 in non-infrastructure changes. They will not be notified if they will receive funding until May.