Colusa County officials and a Sacramento design firm have spent the past year mapping out recommendations that, if implemented, could make it safer for students in the county’s five school districts to walk or ride their bikes to school.
Safe Routes to School is a program designed to create safe, convenient, and fun opportunities for students to walk, bike, take a bus, and car pool to school, officials said.
The Colusa County Board of Supervisors contracted with Alta Planning and Design, Inc. in August of 2016 to complete Colusa County’s first Safe Routes to School Plan, which addresses a wide variety of pedestrian and traffic issues at all 14 primary, elementary, junior high and high schools in Colusa County.
The extensive report, which was just completed, was funded with a $200,000 planning grant from the California Department of Transportation. The SRTS plan goes before the Colusa County Board of Supervisors for adoption in December, said Public Works Director Scott Lanphier.
Lanphier said having a SRTS plan helps the county and/or school districts to prioritize potential short-term and long-term infrastructure improvements, develop programs that educate and encourage students and parents to seek alternatives to single-family automobile commutes to school, as well as tap into potential state and federal funding.
Kendra Bridges, an Alta planning associate, said the past year was spent working with school officials in each district, local agencies such as Colusa County Health and Human Services, as well as the public, to come up with a plan that addresses the issues that often prevent students from walking or riding their bikes to school.
“Many schools have the same safety issues, such as the lack of visible crosswalks, but each school is unique in its own way,” Bridges said. “Some schools are right in the center of town with congested traffic, while others are very rural or on the outskirts of town with heavy truck traffic.”
The report, which can be viewed online at www.colusacountysaferoutes.org provides extensive recommendations that address safety concerns at Burchfield Primary, Egling Middle School, Colusa High School, Maxwell Elementary, Maxwell High School, Princeton Elementary, Princeton High School, Williams Elementary, Williams Upper Elementary, Williams High School, Grimes Elementary, Arbuckle Elementary, Lloyd Johnson Jr. High, and Pierce High School.
Potential hazards exist in a variety of jurisdictions on school, city, county, and state properties, the report indicates.
At Burchfield Primary and Egling Middle Schools, in Colusa, it was noted that crosswalks have low visibility; there are no crossing guards; and motorists, including other parents, do not yield for pedestrians.
At Arbuckle Elementary, sidewalk gaps on Hall Street lead students to walk in the road or shoulder; an irregular intersection creates a wide and potentially challenging pedestrian crossing; and parents make U-turns in front of school after dropping students off, causing potential for conflict.
Hazards also exist at Grand Island Elementary, which is on a state highway that serves as a connection for Highway 45 through Grimes.
The report indicates that traffic is fast at this location, with no advanced signage on the highway that a crosswalk exists, nor are their crosswalks, sidewalks or pathways on several streets leading to the school.
Although Colusa County and Caltrans have made roadway improvements in recent years to slow traffic on Highway 45 through Princeton, the report indicates a number of walking or biking hazards, especially at Princeton Elementary on Norman Road, where traffic is fast and vehicles do not slow or stop for pedestrians.
Recommendations include upgrading to high visibility crosswalks, installing advance yield markings, and installing a pedestrian hybrid beacon or rectangular rapid flashing beacon.
In Maxwell, the report notes the same concerns the School Board had regarding students walking around and behind vehicles at Maxwell Elementary School and multi-directional travel in an unpaved parking lot, with similar recommendations.
However, the school board disagreed with the recommendations for a safer route to the high school.
“The plan recommends a sidewalk on the north side of Oak Street, and that is just not where they walk,” said President Kim Giffin. “I don’t think they will use it.”
Giffin said that while kids were taught to walk against traffic, thus utilizing the sidewalk on the south side of the street on their way to school, she did not believe students would bother crossing the highway to keep to the same patter going home.
Both the school board and the report noted that cars and large trucks approach the high school from rural roads at high speeds and that current signage for school zone is not effective.
The report also noted that students enter and exit the school utilizing the same driveway as vehicles, which enter and exit at high speeds.
Williams schools also had hazards for students who walk or ride their bikes to school.
At the elementary school, the report noted that insufficient signage exists where vehicles cross the sidewalks when entering or exiting the parking lot from E Street, and that motorists do not yield to the crosswalk consistently.
At the upper elementary and high school, challenges exist because 10th and B streets comprise the main access point to the school, where traffic is uncontrolled and students fail to look both ways before crossing the busy intersection.
The report also notes that motorists speed through the parking lot, and that students walk between and behind parked cars.
Hazards also exist the area of 10th and C streets, where motorists drive too fast and do not yield to pedestrians, the report states.
Bridges said that in addition to infrastructure improvements, education and enforcement campaigns are essential to the success of Safe Routes to School programs as they increase the desirability and safety of walking, biking, school buses, and carpooling. ■