County moving forward with Safe Routes to Schools application

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OCEAN CITY — Looking to create a safer path for young bicyclists and pedestrians headed for a day of learning at the Ocean City Intermediate School, Cape May County officials secured the Ocean City school board’s approval to go the federal route in hopes of slowing down traffic along Bay Avenue from 18th to 20th streets.

At a Jan. 25 school board meeting, the Board of Education voted 4-2 to sign off on the grant. Board members Gregory Donahue and Lloyd Hayes voted against approving the plan because it included a bicycle path along Bay Avenue and they did not think it was a good idea.

The county applied for funding through the Safe Routes to School program to address several safety issues. SRTS empowers communities to make walking and bicycling to school routine and safe. The federal program makes funding available for a wide variety of programs and projects from building safer street crossings to establishing programs that encourage children and their parents to walk and bicycle to school.

County engineer Dale Foster said the area surrounding the school has been of utmost concern to county officials.

“Over the years, there have been a number of issues on Bay Avenue; a lot of people are worried about how fast the cars are traveling near the school,” Foster said.

Foster presented the school board with sketches of what could be done along Bay Avenue to calm traffic and create a safer route to the school.

The final schematic includes a grassy median, a left turn lane to 18th Street and into the school entrance, bike lanes and sidewalks, all of which would eliminate parking along the street.

The plan was first discussed at a Dec. 14 school board meeting. Since the city’s official bike path runs along Haven Avenue behind the school, Hayes and Donahue said they did not think another bicycle route on Bay Avenue was needed. By placing a bike path on Bay Avenue, the plan would encourage students to ride on Bay Avenue.

They also expressed concern about eliminating parking. Teachers, they noted, parked along Bay Avenue. If parking was eliminated, teachers would park in the Riviera neighborhood on the opposite side of Bay Avenue, causing concern for residents.

“It’s an extremely competitive program,” Foster said, adding that funding was not guaranteed.

The plan, he said, would have to meet federal guidelines for the purpose of the program.

“The idea is to encourage students to walk and ride their bikes to school, to make the area surrounding the school safe,” Foster said.

The plan would not have to include a bike path as long as it concentrated on pedestrian safety.

Funds, he said, may be used for the planning, design and construction of projects that will substantially improve the ability of students to walk and bicycle to school, including sidewalk improvements, traffic calming improvements, street crossings, on-street bicycle facilities, off-street bicycle and pedestrian facilities, secure bicycle parking, and traffic diversion improvements.

In addition to enabling and encouraging children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school, Foster said it also aims to encourage a healthy and active lifestyle from an early age; and to facilitate the planning, development and implementation of projects and activities that will improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption and air pollution in the vicinity of school buildings.

In 1969, about half of all students walked or bicycled to school. Fewer than 15 percent of all school trips are made by walking or bicycling today; one-quarter are made on a school bus, and over half of all children arrive at school in private automobiles according to the SRTS program.

This decline in walking and bicycling has had an adverse effect on traffic congestion and air quality around schools, as well as pedestrian and bicycle safety. In addition, a growing body of evidence has shown that children who lead sedentary lifestyles are at risk for a variety of health problems such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Safety issues are a big concern for parents, who consistently cite traffic danger as a reason why their children are unable to bicycle or walk to school.

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