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Published: Tuesday, 10/6/2009

Sylvania Safe Routes to School study is OK'd

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

When parents of McCord Junior High School and Sylvan Elementary School students renewed complaints about pedestrian safety along McCord Road last spring, city officials considered, but decided against, commissioning a Safe Routes to School study of the situation.

But after determining that such a study could be conducted for those plus two other schools within the city limits for just a few thousand dollars more than the original proposal, Sylvania City Council agreed recently to allow up to $15,000 to be spent on it.

"This allows us to apply for state funding for any or all of the four schools," said Jeff Ballmer, the city's service director, listing Maplewood and Highland elementaries as the other two that qualify as primary or middle-level schools within the city limits.

DGL Consulting Engineers, L.L.C., of Maumee, will conduct the study, during which traffic and pedestrian counts will be taken and students, parents, and school staff interviewed to assess how traffic affects students' trips to and from school.

City council on March 2 approved spending about $7,000 to pay for a crossing guard at McCord and Gaines Mill Drive for one year, as an initial encouragement for neighborhood parents to allow their children to walk to Sylvan and McCord schools, both of which are nearby.

Mayor Craig Stough said that from his observations, the crossing guard was slowing traffic to allow children to cross safely, but traffic in the area was snarled "by the large group of parents driving their kids to school … especially when there's a little rain."

The Ohio Department of Transportation established its Safe Routes to School program in 2006 and committed $19 million in federal funds to it, to be spent over four years. The program's intent is to encourage more schoolchildren to walk or bike to school by improving facilities and alleviating safety problems along the routes they use.

The state program pays for safety improvements recommended in studies like the one DGL is to conduct.

Council considered paying $11,100 for a study of just the McCord-Sylvan area in the spring, but several council members balked at the cost.

They instead urged their colleagues to simply pay for a traffic signal or flashing light at one of the crosswalks near the junior high. But when Michelle Atkinson, a leader of the parents' safety campaign, said doing so would forfeit any opportunity to get state funding for such a light, council retreated from that idea, too.

Previous traffic studies in the area failed to produce "warrants" for a stoplight near the junior high, but supporters hope the Safe Routes study, which goes beyond the simple counts taken in standard traffic studies, will support one.



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