By Ivan Raconteur
HOWARD LAKE, MN Recently, the City of Howard Lake was awarded a material grant which brought facilitators from the Minnesota Department of Health and Wright County Public Health to host a four-hour workshop on Safe Routes to School (SRTS) at Winsted City Hall.
The workshop is considered the first step towards creating a Safe Routes to School Plan that is formally recognized by the State of Minnesota.
According to Howard Lake City Administrator Nick Haggenmiller, the workshop enjoyed broad representation from each of the cities of Howard Lake, Waverly, and Winsted, as well as Wright County parks and planning departments, Wright County Public Health, Howard Lake Police Department, McLeod County planning and public health departments, and, of course, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Schools.
“As our group moves forward with the formal creation of a plan, St. James School in Howard Lake and Holy Trinity in Winsted will be invited to participate in sessions, as will representatives from the townships,” Haggenmiller noted.
“Collectively, many of the components of a SRTS plan are already in place,” Haggenmiller said. “For the last two years, HLWW Schools has hosted an annual Walk or Bike to School Day; and Howard Lake and Winsted police departments host bike rodeos throughout the year to educate children on basic bike/traffic safety items. Each of the three communities have their own variations of sidewalk and trail plans.”
Larger regional ideas have also been discussed for several years dating back to the construction of the HLWW High School in 2008. Discussions have including the concept of linking Howard Lake and Winsted by a paved trail, Haggenmiller noted.
“Our relatively small size makes this easier in some ways, and more difficult in other ways,” Haggenmiller said. “While smaller school districts and smaller cities implicitly means smaller budgets to successfully implement projects; it also serves as a benefit as we are more quick to realize the benefit of these relationships and partnerships to leverage our collective strength. People in attendance at the workshop knew their communities well enough to know exact locations of missing sidewalk connections, or need for additional signage/striping for pedestrians. Similarly, our size also means this topic appears as a larger item in front of elected leaders who were in attendance, as well as school superintendents and city administrators which will be beneficial to advance the program.”
According to Haggenmiller, the benefit of developing trail systems goes beyond keeping students safe.
“Sidewalk and trail connections to, and within, the communities creates a more walkable and enjoyable community for all residents and visitors,” Haggenmiller commented. “The idea of getting on a bike in downtown Howard Lake and being able to ride as far west as Cosmos or as far east as Plymouth makes for a wonderful recreation activity for folks. Economic impact studies have found walkable, bikeable communities especially those with a connection to a regional trail enjoy a stronger downtown business district, have a greater demand for lodging, and are overall healthier.”
“SRTS has various planning and infrastructure funding opportunities to assist with the described activities,” Haggenmiller said. “These funds can be further leveraged with other local, county, and state trail grant programs to the mutual benefit of students and residents.
“Moving forward, to use an intentional pun we understand we must crawl to walk, and walk in order to ride. Therefore, HLWW Schools will expand educational opportunities relating to biking and walking to school by implementing the Walk! Bike! Fun! curriculum, along with Walking Wednesdays.
“City leaders will review planning documents that take into account the change in facilities and school locations, along with reconsideration of larger regional trail connections, as well as consider formal school speed zones around each elementary school and high school. There was also discussion of larger one-off events such as dropping students off a mile north or south of the high school along Wright County Road 6, and having them walk the last mile to the school on the dedicated bikeway.
“Finally, there will be an active dialogue around the topic and determination if Safe Routes to School could become its own ad hoc committee between the parties or folded within another existing group that focuses on similar efforts, such as transportation planning or safety of students.”
Haggenmiller advises anyone who is interested in learning more to contact the Howard Lake, Waverly or Winsted city offices or HLWW Schools.
What is Safe Routes to Schools?
Safe Routes to School is a federal, state and local effort to enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school and to make walking and bicycling to school safe and appealing. Safe Routes to School programs include education and promotional activities, as well as engineering improvements to create a safer walking and biking environment.
A successful, comprehensive SRTS plan includes elements of city planning and engineering that incorporate transportation, trail and sidewalk networks so that students have safe means to bike or walk to school centered around evaluating existing conditions, educating students to the health and safety benefits, enforcing policies and laws surrounding vehicle and traffic safety, and engineering pedestrian friendly communities.
Why Safe Routes?
Communities around schools suffer from traffic congestion and the issues that come with it. Neighborhood environments suffer from toxins released by cars polluting the air we breathe. Children are becoming less active and more overweight.
Safe Routes to School helps children walk and bike to school via safe routes. When this happens, neighborhoods and communities benefit.
What are the benefits for my child to walk or bike to school?
Studies show that there are many benefits for children who are physically active. Walking or biking to school is a great way for your child to get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Getting activity through walking and bicycling helps reduce behavior problems and helps kids settle in for learning during the school day. Kids who walk or bike to school are more alert and focused and are in a better mood when school starts. Kids who are physically active also have high confidence and fewer health problems such as childhood obesity. Commuting with neighborhood friends may also serve as a fun, adventurous way to get to school.