Thursday, July 26, 2012

Grant will help make stroll to school safer


ROOM TO WALK—A Caltrans grant will allow the city to build a sidewalk on Los Feliz Drive, a street students use to get to Conejo Elementary. 
WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers ROOM TO WALK—A Caltrans grant will allow the city to build a sidewalk on Los Feliz Drive, a street students use to get to Conejo Elementary. WENDY PIERRO/Acorn NewspapersFRONT PAGE
By Dashiell Young-Saver
A plan to improve the safety of students walking to and from Conejo Elementary School will be completed sometime in the next two years with the help of a Caltrans grant of $332,000, officials said this week.
Earlier this month, the project was among 139 in California to receive a share of $48.5 million in Caltrans Safe Routes to School grants, a program intended to reduce injuries and fatalities among children in grades K-12 who walk and bicycle to school.
Among several planned improvements, the city intends to build a sidewalk on Los Feliz Drive, which borders the school.

“The Los Feliz entrance to the school has always been rough, and the city had never really invested a lot of money in it before to make it a safe place for the kids to walk,” said Dena Sellers, principal of Conejo Elementary.
In May, a 5-year-old Conejo Elementary kindergartner; her 4-year-old sister; their mother, Griselda Castro; and a 5-year-old friend were hit by a car while crossing Thousand Oaks Boulevard on their way home from the school. The mother and girls—who were using a crosswalk—were hospitalized, three in critical condition.
According to TOPD Sgt. Barbara Payton, they have all since been released. The older daughter suffered the worst injuries, not regaining consciousness for about two weeks. However, she was released earlier this month and, according to Sellers, is expected to start first grade in the fall.
In March the principal wrote a letter in support of the grant. Even though none of the safety improvements involve the area where the family was hit, she said the letter became even more important to her after the May collision.
“After the accident it’s hard for families to feel like crossing the street and walking where there’s no sidewalk,” Sellers said. “So this (project) will help them feel like (it’s safe for) students to walk to and from school.”
In addition to the sidewalk on Los Feliz, the Safe Routes grant will fund the creation of additional curb ramps, crosswalks and signs on the same street.
The funding will also support biking and walking safety programs for students.
The city has also installed stop signs on Almon Drive and Whiteside Place, which are cross streets of Los Feliz.
Conejo Elementary is the lowest income school in the city, according to city bicycle coordinator Kathy Lowry, who wrote the recent Safe Routes grant request.
According to Lowry, 79 percent of the school’s 415 students receive free or reduced-price lunches and 70 percent walk to school.
“This project was at the top of our application list because there’s nowhere else in the city that we’re missing sidewalks directly adjacent to the school,” Lowry said.
During a meeting in December, city staff presented the sidewalk project, in English and Spanish, to about 120 Conejo Elementary parents. The parents gave their overwhelming support because of the safety and health benefits, Lowry said.
“(Because of the work), we will have more children walking and biking to school . . . traffic flow will slow down . . . and the children will be healthier.”
Jeff Baarstad, superintendent of Conejo Valley Unified School District, wrote a letter to Caltrans in March in support of the improvements. In it, he said the construction was necessary to prevent future accidents.
“We have had a couple of pedestrian, cycling and auto accidents nearby recently,” he wrote. “It is critical that we make strong efforts, such as those proposed, to prevent additional ones.”
A side benefit of the project is that it will create engineering and construction jobs in the community, Lowry said. She estimated the work will be done some time in the next two years.
Six other city projects funded by Caltrans Safe Routes to School grants, which the state sponsored in the past few years, are expected to be finished by December. All of the projects involve building lighted crosswalks for district schools.


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