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Published: Monday, 3/25/2013

Safe school crossings, routes take shape at Sylvania schools

NATALIE TRUSSO CAFARELLO
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Editor's note: In the original version of this article, the amount of money supplied by ODOT was incorrect. ODOT supplied $202,000 to Sylvania for infrastructure upgrades.

Cross walk in front of Highland Elementary School on Erie Street in Sylvania, showing the signs and crossing that is part of the  Safe Routes to School program. Cross walk in front of Highland Elementary School on Erie Street in Sylvania, showing the signs and crossing that is part of the Safe Routes to School program.
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On a cold spring morning, Kevin Aller, Sylvania city service director, shows the designated pathway and signs that the city has constructed in front of Highland Elementary School on Erie Street to help ensure students arrive to school safely.

“There were no crosswalks located directly in front of the school before. So the children would shoot across the street,” Mr. Aller said. The nearest crosswalks were about 500 feet away at street intersections. The new crosswalk was placed where the children set a natural pathway to the school.

Now, the students can stop traffic on Erie Street by pushing a button that activates solar-powered flashing beacons to alert drivers to the pedestrian crossing. Bright yellow crosswalk signage  has been installed as well.

The new features were installed as part of the Safe Routes to School initiative  funded mainly by the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Ohio's Safe Routes to School campaign is part of a national effort that  has a double objective: to reduce children injuries while they are en route to and from school and to promote wellness by encouraging people to  walk and bike around the community. 

ODOT supplied the city with $202,000 for the infrastructure upgrades to streets and crosswalks near Highland Elementary, Maplewood Elementary, Sylvan Elementary, and McCord Junior High schools. Recently, it  covered 50 percent of a $35,000 increase to the project.

ODOT required that the brick material used to construct street curb ramps be replaced with truncated domes. The plastic sheets have raised circular objects on the surface and installation required more space than the brick ramps. The removal of concrete to fit the new surface added to the cost of the overall project. However, the raised surface helps visually impaired walkers detect the boundary between the sidewalk and street.

“The elevated surface helps people with disabilities recognize they are at an intersection, and it provides better traction for wheelchairs,” Mr. Aller said.

ODOT has granted $220,000 to cover the project cost of $247,000. The City of Sylvania will pay for the rest, Mr. Aller said.

Other infrastructure improvements included speed indicators. Mr. Aller said ODOT is collecting and analyzing data to determine if the speed indicators discourage drivers from speeding in those school zones.

The engineering part of the project started in  September and construction work  is expected  to be completed this spring.

The last construction task is painting shark-teeth markings on the street. The white triangular objects are used to outline areas on the streets where drivers are to yield to pedestrian traffic. The yield lines will be painted on the streets in the walking zones outside of the schools once the weather warms up. The markings are another way to indicate to drivers that they are to slow down for pedestrian crossings.

The Sylvania School District is about to enter into the educational phase to promote walking, bike riding, or skate boarding to school as a part a healthy lifestyle.

In 2010, a city consultant reported that barely 11 percent of the four schools' student body arrived to school on foot, bike or skateboard.

The Sylvania School District reported that once a crossing guard was in place at Highland Elementary crossings rose to 30 per day from 10 per day.

Usage of the crosswalks will be evaluated after the safety improvements are completed at each school.

The Sylvania School District is teaming up with ProMedica for the educational phase.

Erin Whitton, manager of injury prevention and community outreach at Toledo Children’s Hospital, filed a grant  application with ODOT on March 1 for $42,000. About $8,000 has been donated by ProMedica, Flower Hospital, and an anonymous business.

The educational program will enhance the efforts of the Sylvania Police Department and Toledo Children’s Hospital to motivate students and families to get out in the community, walking and biking safely, Mrs. Whitton said. The police department hosts bike poster  contests and informational sessions to teach students about being safe when walking or riding a bike. 

Mrs. Whitton said  it is anticipated that ODOT would announce the Safe Routes to School award for the educational campaign in  mid-May.

According to state's Safe Routes to Schools Web site, the initiative reaches its goals by integrating engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation programs.  Mrs. Whitton said that the educational aspect is still in the planning phase and will include an  encouragement aspect of the program.

The educational phase is expected to start in September.

Contact Natalie Trusso Cafarello at: 419-206-0356 or ntrusso@theblade.com.



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