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School safety is workshop topic

by Sharon Carter

It’s one thing to know that busy streets which lack sidewalks or pathways and have few crosswalks are not safe for pedestrians and bicyclists. It is quite another to attempt to remedy the situation.

Beginning with routes to Minden and Gardnerville Elementary schools, the towns of Minden and Gardnerville and the Douglas County School District have taken the first step toward safer, more walkable and bikeable streets in the Carson Valley.

With a grant from the Office of Traffic Safety (a part of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles and Public Safety), the towns and the school district are developing a program to identify safe routes to and from the schools and to develop an on-going process to evaluate and improve pedestrian and bicycle routes.

As part of the process, earlier this month students from the schools’ 3rd, 4th and 5th grades and their parents answered a questionnaire about walking and biking to school. Results of the survey showed that the children generally feel they can walk or ride a bike to school. And if traffic safety improvements are made, their parents would generally agree with them.

The children also felt they could walk or ride several miles to school, while generally, their parents felt that one mile or less was a safe distance.

Holding a workshop at each school for students and their parents to help determine the safest route is the next step in the process.

The engineer for the Town of Gardnerville, Robert Fellows of Minden’s Berryman and Henigar (formerly the Vasey Engineering Co.) said the study should be completed by the end of June.

“The towns started the process because the improvements are needed and will fit in nicely with their objectives,” Fellows said. “There are things the towns or the county can’t do, either because the roads don’t belong to them but to the state or because of finances. This process opens the door to getting things done.”

Fellows said the Office of Traffic Safety, which finances only the planning of safety improvements, awarded the program a grant of $7,000 to determine the best and safest routes to the schools, identify deficiencies in the routes and develop capital improvement programs to correct the deficiencies.

Dick Yeoman of the OTS said his office can’t fund the actual physical construction.

“We can’t pave, do sidewalks or pedestrian crosswalks,” Yeoman said. “Construction (money sources) depends on the route – if it’s along a state road, the Nevada Department of Transportation has a pot of money to fix those things. There is also some funding, but it’s scarcer, to do non-state roads.”

Yeoman said before a community can apply for funding to actually do a project, it has to know what has to be done and where so it can be “costed out.”

“NDOT and other funding sources require the planning,” Yeoman said.

He said NDOT also requires that its warrants for traffic control devices be met. Any safe route to Gardnerville Elementary will likely include some interface with Highway 395, which is a state roadway.

“This is just the first step in the process, the bottom line is to protect our children and anyone who wants to go from Point A to Point B by other means than driving,” he said.

Yeoman said the OTS has an annual grant budget for the state of $1.2 million, in mostly federal money.

Because of on-going, multi-year projects, he said his office normally has about $600,000 to $700,000 a year to fund new projects.

“There’s no such thing as an average grant,” Yeoman said. “Even though 85 percent of the state’s population is in the Las Vegas and Reno metropolitan areas, our funding isn’t split that way. The smaller communities have needs and fewer resources to fall back on. We have lots of grants in the $2,000 to $5,000 range. In small communities, that’s a sizable chunk of change.”

The state’s two highway safety representatives, Yeoman and Sue Berryman, handle all the traffic safety grants throughout the state, monitoring about 90 per year. The grants are awarded by a statewide review committee.

Depending on how project this goes, Fellows said, he foresees other entities in the county applying for future School Trip Safety planning grants for other Douglas County schools.

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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