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City, CMSD to chart 'safe routes" to school

The city of Cleveland and CMSD will map routes to help children in kindergarten through eighth grade walk and bike to school as safely as possible.

A committee met Thursday to begin drafting a plan that is expected to be finished in May. The gathering of nearly 20 people represented the Ohio Department of Transportation, city planners, police, foundations, hospitals and cycling enthusiasts from Bike Cleveland.

The “Safe Routes to School” plan is part of a national initiative that has spread to nearly 80 of Ohio’s 88 counties. The plan could be used to secure grants for such purposes as sidewalk repairs, safety education, speed-limit enforcement and dealing with nuisance properties.

Supporters’ ultimate hope is to help children become more physically fit and more focused in school, while also reducing pollution. Their goals align with CMSD’s new campaign to raise attendance -- “Get to School. You Can Make It!” – and the city’s Healthy Cleveland Initiative.

“We know where you work, live and play has a strong impact on your health status,” Cleveland Planning Director Freddy Collier said.

To develop the routes, the committee will review data on traffic, accidents, street conditions, vacant houses and crime and chart “kid friendly assets” and “safe havens” like parks, libraries, police stations and recreation centers.

Members also will review the results of surveys given to principals, parents and students. The parent surveys will start Saturday during the Mayor’s Youth Summit and CMSD Back to School Fair at Public Auditorium and continue through September.

ODOT has set aside $4 million for grants that this year. Collier said the pool is small, so Cleveland would “have to be very clever” and use any grant it receives to leverage other resources.

CMSD operates 70 K-8 schools. ODOT consultants Stephanie Tresso and Mark Nolt said that because the District is so large, the plan must focus on “priority corridors” that benefit as many students as possible.

An earlier grant, awarded to the city, includes the salary of Calley Mersmann, hired by CMSD as a Safe Routes to School coordinator.

While the plan is being developed, Mersmann will promote strategies like the “Walking School Bus” – a group of children walking to school with one or more adults – and Walk and Bike to School Days.

“We are going to be trying out some things with our partners to figure out what works in which places,” she said.