I’ve spent a good part of this week writing a grant application for $36,000 to fund a part-time Safe Routes to School Coordinator. We have been working on this issue for the past three years but have yet to get access to federal funds that would enable us to achieve significant results. We are concurrently applying for $500,000 from the Safe Routes Infrastructure Program to build sidewalks on Gibson Hill Road. It would be nice to see our efforts to date rewarded with something tangible.
Even if we are unsuccessful, I have enjoyed my participation on the Safe Routes Committee and believe it is the right thing to do. It’s rare that I actually get to write a grant or help supervise something like a walking school bus; so I appreciate the opportunity to see immediate results from my efforts.
Most of my time is spent in meetings or behind a desk where I may receive some satisfaction from helping a project move forward or assisting a citizen with a problem, but usually I am not directly involved in building or creating things I can see. I really won’t see the Safe Routes money if we receive it, but I will be able to see what it buys and know that I was instrumental in helping to make it happen.
I’m hopeful more children and parents will find that walking to school is safer and a lot healthier than riding in a car. About one in five Albany students currently walk or bike, despite the fact that most live within easy walking distance. This is the point where it’s necessary to point out that when I was a student I walked up to two miles to get to and from school. Honesty requires me to add that when I lived in Europe a driver picked up a couple of fellow students, my sister, and me and drove us the 30 or so miles to school every day. My memory is selective, but I think I much preferred walking.
The Safe Routes Committee has also allowed me to get to know some truly great and selfless people I might otherwise have never met. Jim Lawrence and Bill Pintard have given an incredible number of hours to this program and to promoting cycling in Albany. I know they enjoy their volunteer work, but I also know that there are personal sacrifices involved in doing it. Our school district has been a great partner, and this project has given us the chance to work constructively together at different levels of our respective organizations. The superintendent, student services director, principals, teachers, and parents have all been involved and helpful.
Anyone who believes that getting children to walk to school really isn’t all that important should look at the child obesity epidemic documented by the Center for Disease Control and the cost of transporting kids to school. The district was able to eliminate two bus routes this year, at a time when savings are necessary to retain teachers and maintain the school year. I think children will find that walking and biking is fun and parents might learn that not having to drive to school twice a day is really safer and much more convenient.