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Safer routes for Beairsto students a question of cash

Annika Torrie, a grade 6 student at Beairsto Elementary, drew the winning design for the area's new "Slow Down" signs. The cost to have the signs installed around the school and to relocate certain School Zone signs for better visibility is estimated at $2,000.
Image Credit: Annika Torrie
December 04, 2012 - 5:20 PM

Not much comes free in this world, including the safety of students, greenhouse gas mitigation, and clean air and water. 

The City of Vernon's transportation demand management coordinator, Wendy Majewski, believes the implementation of the School Travel Plan (STP) can address those matters, if adequate funding is provided by the city. 
 
Over the past three years, and in partnership with the Hub for Active School Travel (HASTE) and Green Communities Canada, Vernon has been getting to the "route" of why so few students walk or bike to school. 
 
"We've seen a 20 per cent increase in the number of students walking to school," said Majewski of the impact the STP had at Harwood Elementary. She added that the results at other local schools have been the same.  
 
The city has implemented the program and funded improvements at every school in Vernon except for Beairsto Elementary and Alexis Park Elementary School. Mission Hill Elementary is somewhere in the middle of the process, with upgrades in the works. 
 
 "It's a process where we look at how students get to school and then look at ways to encourage more walking and cycling," says Amanda Watson, the city's transportation technician. 
 
"We're one of the first to do it," says Watson of the pilot project. She adds that Vernon has received recognition both provincially and nationally for its success.
 
But there's still a ways to go before the streets are crowded with student walkers and cyclists rather than cars. And as usual, it comes down to funding. 
 
The results of a questionnaire sent out to parents of Beairsto students showed concern for the safety of their children in 11 different locations, many of them on various sections of 27th Street and 35th Avenue. Areas where drivers tend to speed, places with narrow, or no sidewalks and sections without crosswalks are just some of the places parents didn't want their kids walking. 
 
The price tag for every barrier to be addressed is $85,100. Watson and Majewsky are only asking the city for $8,100—enough to implement remedial action for the four problem zones identified as the top priorities. 
 
"We'll go year by year," says Watson. "Otherwise, it's just too costly."
 
But whether or not the program gets even a dime from the city is up in the air. 
 
Majewski says previous councils have approved funding for the project, but isn't certain what financial backing will be provided in the 2013 budget.
 
Triumphs of the program include the construction of a multi-use path on 20th Street, new sidewalks on Klinger Road, and safer parking lots at multiple schools. Beairsto wants similar things. Namely, more crosswalks, more sidewalks, and better signage, including the student designed "Slow Down" signs that have been erected at other schools. 
 
Majewski notes the improvements benefit the entire community, not just students. She says the project helps address issues of health by getting people moving, and also chips away at the problem of global warming by taking polluting cars off of roadways. In the end, she says, the air is clearer and the water running off the road and into the gutters is cleaner. 
 
Vernon city council will meet to discuss the 2013 budget on Friday. 
 
—Charlotte Helston
chelston@infotelnews.ca
 
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2012
InfoTel News Ltd

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