Safe Routes to School Program Helps Grand Rapids

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It’s a step that may help younger generations in Grand Rapids not only stay safe but also get more fit.

The city just found out it received grant money to connect some existing trails in town.

Since the middle school was built about 12-years ago there had been a section of sidewalk missing south of the building, as it was a mostly residential area.

Essentially, if students walked to school via 8th Avenue NE they either had to trudge through snow banks or walk on the street.

“With the 77 buses and hundreds of cars that drop and pick up kids if there is not a decent way for them to stay off of the street, they are going to be on the street,” said Grand Rapids Mayor Dale Adams.

Step by step it was a risky walk for not only students, but also their families to brave the traffic.

“Parents surveyed said it was the number one barrier in allowing their children to walk to school (no sidewalk). So, if we can provide that safe corridor I think we will really see an increase,” said Grand Rapids City Engineer Julie Kennedy.

Thanks to hard work by the city, school district and Get Fit Itasca, they received a $261,000 grant from the Safe Routes to School Program, for sidewalk improvements.

The money will allow them to complete a 4-block stretch along 8th Avenue NE that is without sidewalks.

The project is expected to be completed by this fall.

It will complete an existing trail system from Robert J Elkington Middle School to the Mississippi River.

The trail will still force students to cross two major intersections at U.S. Highway 169 and U.S. Highway 2.

“Twenty years ago walking on the street wasn’t such a dangerous situation but it is now with the additional commuters, bus, texting and driving. We are doing a good job at discouraging (those habits), but facts are facts. If you’re off on a separate sidewalk or trail they are much safer,” said Kennedy.

The community also hopes the trail connection will encourage a push to fight childhood obesity.

Mayor Dale Adams said this is just another stepping stone for the community.

His goal is to someday connect the trail system with a bridge to cross the mighty Mississippi River.