As Seaside, the Seaside School District and other partners explore solutions for providing students with safer access to their schools, sports and other activities, they are looking for feedback from the community.

With assistance from Safe Routes to School, the project leaders — including representatives from the city, school district, Oregon Department of Transportation and Alta Planning + Design — are holding a walk audit from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. next Wednesday. The community and other stakeholders are invited to attend to learn more about the program and offer input. The group will be meeting at 7:15 a.m. at the bike rack at Pacific Ridge Elementary School. In addition to attending the walk audit, community members also can share feedback at http://odotsrtsprojectid.com/.

The walk audit will be conducted in the morning to observe student arrival, according to Seaside schools Superintendent Susan Penrod. It will begin with observing elementary student arrival and then move to the middle and high school campus.

Dale McDowell, the city’s Public Works director, who is spearheading the program for Seaside, said they want to get an idea of how the traffic flows, how many students are currently walking or biking to school, how the school buses are getting on and off campus, and other factors.

“With the Safe Routes to School coming on board, it’s another set of fresh eyes looking at things for us,” he said.

Safe Routes to School

Safe Routes to School was started in the 1990s but didn’t take off until 2005, when Congress approved funding for implementation of programs across the country. In June 2012, Congress passed a new transportation bill — Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century — that made significant changes for funding the program.

Under the new law, Safe Routes to School is combined with the former Transportation Enhancement program. All Safe Routes to School that were eligible under the federal Safe Routes to School program continue to be eligible to compete for funding under Transportation Alternatives. However, these projects are no longer fully covered by federal funds. Local communities must now come up with 20% of the project’s cost as a match.

The objective of Safe Routes to School is to create safe, healthy, convenient and fun opportunities for kids to use active transportation for the school commute or to get to their after-school activities. This primarily involves walking, biking or skating.

McDowell has been interested in having Seaside participate in Safe Routes to School for several years. He initially reached out to former school Superintendent Doug Dougherty. However, the project was put on hiatus with talk of building the new school campus on the hills by what is now Pacific Ridge Elementary School.

Entrance to Pacific Ridge Elementary and the middle and high school on Spruce Drive.

As the move was solidified and construction began, McDowell applied for a grant from the state Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program to financially help with the audit, planning assistance and future implementation of projects to improve children’s access to school.

The first step is taking stock of the current options and infrastructure within a 1-mile radius of the school campus and identifying where there are issues, such as sidewalks ending abruptly, lack of sidewalks, or inadequate lighting, to name a few. The area in question involves neighborhoods such as Sunset Hills, Whispering Pines, Lea Way, Spruce Drive and parts of Wahanna Road and Broadway, where the Sunset Recreation Center and Seaside Public Library are located.

From there, McDowell said, they can start developing a Safe Routes to School plan with solutions that make it easier and safer for kids to walk and bike to school. The plan also will outline opportunities for education and engagement to promote these transportation alternatives. At the same time, they will work on ways to bring crosswalks and other infrastructure up to current Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.

The city has already tackled a few projects, such as creating a crosswalk on Spruce Drive and restriping the road at the intersection with Wahanna Road to add a turn lane.

A community effort

To create the most proactive and feasible plan possible, McDowell is seeking to involve as many community partners as possible. That includes representatives from the Sunset Empire Transportation District, Providence Seaside Hospital and Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District.

“We all need to talk to each other, we all need to get together, we all need to come up with solutions, and we will figure this out,” he said.

At the same time, they need to consider how the school campus might change over the next 10 years, which could see the bus barn being moved to the hill or construction of other new facilities.

“We’re trying to get everybody in sync, because over the next 10 years, there are going to be other changes and other additions up here that will create some traffic,” McDowell said. “Let’s at least bring them to the forefront now.”

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