Safe Routes to School program offers new sidewalks, education

NORWAY – Workers are well on their way to completing the infrastructure component of Norway’s recent Safe Routes to School program.

That component includes the construction of approximately 6,000 feet of brand-new, wider sidewalks on portions of Section Street, Walnut Street, Fourth Avenue, and Second Avenue near Norway-Vulcan Area Schools.

Work has finished on the Section Street and Walnut Street sidewalks, is wrapping up on the Fourth Avenue sidewalks, and is now beginning on the Second Avenue sidewalks. All work will be completed by Labor Day, just in time for the first day of school.

Funds for the new sidewalks were provided in full by a $391,000 Safe Routes to School grant awarded to a committee of representatives from the school and the city of Norway. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) manages Michigan’s Safe Routes to School program with support from the Michigan Fitness Foundation.

Safe Routes to School actually offers much more than just new sidewalks for Norway students to use.

As project engineer Kevin Trevillian of Coleman Engineering explained, Safe Routes to School is a program, not a project.

“The program is more than infrastructure, it’s about encouraging kids to be active and to safely get to and from school,” he said.

While $385,000 of the $391,000 grant went toward sidewalk reconstruction, the remaining $6,000 will go toward items and activities to promote safe walking among Norway students.

Norway Elementary and Middle School Principal Brad Grayvold said that some of these items will include new reflective vests for the student safety patrol crossing guards, pedometers for students, and other incentives.

Norway City Manager Ray Anderson felt that this non-infrastructure component will be just as important as the new sidewalks.

“We’re hopeful that the program takes root with the kids, who are able to positively influence their parents as well to not walk in the streets,” he said.

According to Anderson, the new, five-feet-wide sidewalks will more comfortably fit two people walking side-by-side.

He added that the wider sidewalks will better accommodate the city’s sidewalk snowplow. The new sidewalks will be the first plowed after a measurable snowfall, to help ensure that students do not have to walk in the streets.

Grayvold and Trevillian noted that the sidewalks on Section Street, Walnut Street, Fourth Avenue, and Second Avenue were targeted for the program after a lengthy study.

Safe Routes to School committee members conducted surveys of students at school, sent surveys home to parents, and completed walking audits. Walking audits consisted of committee members noting which routes students were using to walk to school, monitoring which sidewalks were blocked by vehicles or snowbanks, and assessing the conditions of the sidewalks.

Initially, a more extensive reconstruction plan was proposed. Anderson said that sidewalks on the 300 and 200 blocks of Section Street, Fourth Avenue from Main Street to U.S. 8, Second Avenue from Main Street to U.S. 8, and Third Avenue were also looked at.

However, the committee had to choose the routes that were highly traveled, had room to expand the sidewalks one foot into the boulevard, and were acceptable to MDOT.

Grayvold said that students will be encouraged to use the routes with new sidewalks when they return to school in September.

“Students were mostly walking there anyway,” he pointed out. “They reach the most populated parts of the city.”

Although the main purpose of the Safe Routes to School program is to improve the safety of walking students, Grayvold believed that the new sidewalks will also help to enhance the overall look of the city.

“This makes a great city and a great school better,” he said.

Nikki Younk’s e-mail address is nyounk@ironmountaindailynews.com.