Culver-area youngsters — and pedestrians in general — will have safer surfaces on which to travel to and from school and school-related events thanks to a $250,000 grant from the Indiana Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program, awarded to the town of Culver and announced Oct. 26.
The effort to make the grant a reality in Culver has been the result of a collaboration between Culver Community Schools and the town itself, and that’s something Town Manager Michael Doss and Culver Community Schools Superintendent Brad Schuldt feel is great news for the community, right alongside news of the funding itself.
The Second Century Committee of Culver’s Chamber of Commerce actually began investigating SRTS around two years ago while researching funding possibilities for bicycling routes in the Culver area, explains Doss. MACOG (the Michiana Area Council of Governments) suggested to Second Century representatives that SRTS grant funding might be of assistance in their endeavors, and soon Culver Community Schools was getting behind the effort.
That’s due in large part to the potential benefits of the program for local students, say Doss and Schuldt. The Safe Routes to School initiative is an Indiana-based adoption of a federal program aimed at combating weight gain and obesity in American (and closer to home, Hoosier) children. The INDOT website (www.in.gov/indot/2956.htm ) also notes that “towns with established SRTS programs also report a stronger sense of community identity and increased social skills among school-aged children.” Further, the site quotes a 2008 study which points out, “If the number of kids who walk and bike to school was restored to 1969 levels, our nation would cut 3.2 billion vehicle miles, 1.5 million tons of CO2, and 89,000 tons of other pollutants annually.”
Perhaps the most obvious benefit is in the area of safety. The funds awarded to Culver, Doss points out, will concentrate on improving two major sections of sidewalk, on Ohio and Main Streets, in an effort to cover the south and central portions of Culver and thus covering around two-thirds of the town.
“These were identified as two major sidewalks,” says Doss, “We’re hoping to provide an outlet for kids to come up on the side streets and get onto the major sidewalks.”
He notes some crosswalks are crumbled in those areas, and few if any are Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. Further, traffic safety signals for pedestrians, where they exist at all, are deteriorated, and those will be replaced with new signals. Doss adds the hope is to work towards improving the north side of town — specifically College Avenue — in the future as well.
Schuldt says part of the grant application process was a school-initiated survey of Culver’s elementary and middle school parents and students as to how many walk to school versus riding the bus, as well as whether more parents would allow children to walk to school if conditions were safer.
The survey additionally highlighted the fact that more students are walking to and from extracurricular activities, to the elementary school playground, downtown to the public library and other areas, and similar situations after school, on weekends, and in the summer, than were necessarily walking to and from school for their regular school day.
“It’s important to have these safe areas,” Schuldt says.
Schuldt emphasizes that the program is not an example of the school corporation seeking to reduce expenditures through reduction of the area it will send buses to pick up students, as some school corporations have done in response to massive cuts in education funds across the state over the past year.
“We haven’t changed the basic parameters of where we pick up kids,” he notes, explaining Culver’s school buses generally begin picking up students at the Lake Shore Drive - Academy Road intersection to the east (and State Road 17 and Lake Shore Drive to the north), Jefferson Street at State Road 17 to the west, and Davis and South Main Streets to the south. Students residing on State Road 10 north of Culver are picked up, as there are presently no sidewalks there.
Schuldt also says the corporation has considered ideas of allocating portions of the seven acres east of its current administration building on School Street to benefit students — and the community at large — in the area of fitness. He notes volunteers are now in the process of grading land there for a community soccer area, and there’s been discussion of a fitness course in that spot and possibly on the approximately 20 acres of land across School Street to the west, on which the high and middle schools and their related facilities exist. Those are ideas Doss says fit nicely into the SRTS program, and the current grant helps get students to such areas to begin with.
“If we ultimately develop programs through the school that encourage kids to walk to school or exercise,” he says, “we have to have means to get them there safely. Not having adequate sidewalks discourages them from walking and getting to programs at the school, and we lose that objective.”
Both Schuldt and Doss see the collaboration of several community groups — Second Century, the town, and the school corporation — as heralding new possibilities to benefit not only area students, but the community as a whole.
“We’re looking, from a town and school district standpoint, at other things we can do together,” says Doss. “The things the school does impacts the town and vice versa. We both recognize that this is a really good collaboration to start building on those relationships.”