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‘Safe routes’ proposal to be considered by council

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
May 8, 2010
— Children walking to school could go to “safe houses” if they think they’re in danger under a plan that the Janesville City Council will consider at its meeting Monday.

The Safe Routes to School plan, developed with a state grant and input from schools, city planners and the public, includes a variety of measures to encourage children to walk or bike to school.


The goal is to reduce congestion and have more children get daily exercise.


A survey taken as part of the planning showed about 18 percent of elementary and middle school children walk to school, close to the national average of 16 percent.


The survey also showed 43 percent of parents were concerned about the threat of crimes against children walking to school. Only 12 percent of parents in a national survey had the same concern.


“Parents are worried about ‘stranger danger’ as well as bullying from older kids,” according to comments from parents in the survey, at public meetings and online comments at gazettextra.com, which are cited in an executive summary of the Safe Routes proposal.


The city had a safe-house program years ago, but it was abandoned. Homeowners who were cleared to have their homes be safe houses displayed signs in their windows so children would know where to go.


Police “recently regained the capacity to run the program,” according to the summary.


Parents’ most common fears about kids walking to school concerned the speed and volume of traffic and related issues, the survey showed.


About half of parents cited those concerns.


About half also said weather was a concern.


The proposal calls for “walking school buses,” in which parents volunteer to escort groups of children to and from school.


Walking school buses for Adams, Madison and Monroe schools are planned for June 2.


Regular routes would be established in September.


The plan also requires the city to “prioritize” sidewalk construction near schools.


The council recently turned down all the new sidewalks proposed through the Safe Routes to Schools program.


That isn’t likely to impede the council’s acceptance of the plan, council President Kathy Voskuil said Friday.


Accepting the report does not commit the city to any spending, but it would qualify the city for future grants to carry out the projects, according to the document, Voskuil said.


Any infrastructure project arising from the plan would need separate approval from the city administration and council, according to a letter from city associate planner Terry Nolan to the city manager.


Voskuil said the council’s rejection of the sidewalks appeared to be because members wanted a better process for determining where sidewalks should be built.


Other parts of the plan include educational efforts, new street signs, increased police enforcement around schools and designing streets to slow traffic and/or better accommodate cyclists and pedestrians, as well as cars.


On the agenda

The Janesville City Council meets at 7 p.m. Monday in the fourth floor Council Chambers of the Municipal Building, 18 N. Jackson St.


Agenda items include:


-- Presentation of a water conservation plan.


-- Action on a request to buy and raze a vacant, foreclosed house at 313 N. Pearl St.


-- Adoption of Rock County’s Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan.


-- A vote on a resolution recognizing Bike to Work Week, May 17-21.



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