Safe routes?

Walking or biking to Phillips Elementary School from the densely populated area just east of Acme Street has its challenges.

Coming from the corner of Kenwood and Acme streets, the trek starts out rather smoothly. But then the sidewalks along the east side of Acme Street get bumpy. Soon after the turn onto Phillips Street, an unidentifiable utility cord drags the ground, and farther up the street holes riddle the fence intended to cordon off the former Remington Rand-Kardex industrial site.

Uneven sidewalks, dangling utility lines, abandoned buildings, and high traffic areas are just some of the hazards that plague some of the popular walking routes to Marietta City elementary schools. Ohio’s Safe Routes to School program and grant funding aims to fix some of these problems and make it easier for students to walk and bike to school. But program funds are limited and miles upon miles of sidewalks surround the schools within the city limits.

Improvements also take time.

In 2012, the City of Marietta was approved for a $170,000 Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Grant, administered by the Ohio Department of Transportation. Currently, those approved infrastructure projects are in the final design stage, said Jared Schultheisz, project manager and engineering technician for the city.

“There’s not a deadline set to finish them by. According to ODOT’s milestone schedule, the projects are supposed to sell-meaning bids will be collected-by Sept. 18,” he said.

The approved and funded projects will include improvements at Marietta Middle School and all three elementary schools within city limits-Harmar, Washington and Phillips.

Because Putnam Elementary is outside city limits, Safe Routes grant funding can not be used there. Additionally Putnam Elementary lacks sidewalks, meaning students choosing to walk or bike would ultimately be doing so along Masonic Park Road.

A lot of the planned improvements with Marietta’s first round of grant funding involve improvements to crossing areas, said Schultheisz.

“Phillips would have a lot of crosswalk striping and improving the sidewalk that runs from the school out to Papa John’s,” he said.

Better crossing signals put in at the corner of Pike Street and Elmwood Avenue-though funded outside of the SRTS grant-have already been a big improvement, said Phillips Elementary Principal Joe Finley.

“There are pedestrian crossing lights there now and signals to tell the person when to walk or not to walk,” he said.

Since the signals were installed, Finley said he can not remember receiving any complaints from parents about walking conditions. However, the vast majority of the students are bused to and from school, he noted.

According to Marietta’s original SRTS grant proposal and plan, slightly more than 90 percent of Phillips’ students get a ride to school-the most all the city’s elementary schools.

One of the biggest infrastructure projects planned with the 2012 grant funding is the addition of curb extensions at the intersection of Fourth and Washington streets, near the entrance to Washington Elementary, said Schultheisz.

“They’ll come back and extend the curb out to where the parking lane will end about 20 feet back. It shortens the cross walk distance and makes motorists more aware of students,” he explained.

Washington has the greatest amount of students walking or biking to school. Only 59 percent of their students get a ride to school.

The walk from certain areas to the north and west of the school have a lot of brick sidewalks and many of the concrete sidewalks radiating away from the school are in need of repairs as well.

Typically, the sidewalks in front of homes are the responsibility of the property owner, said Schultheisz. But sometimes the city has funding available to split the cost of repairs with homeowners, he added.

At Harmar Elementary, parents picking their children up Friday mentioned crosswalks and unsafe drivers among some of the things they would like to see addressed.

“Probably something to make getting across the (Franklin and Market streets) intersection a little easier,” said Harmar father Jason Slonaker in reference to what improvements he would like to see.

While there are crosswalk signs, drivers are not always vigilant, and the intersection is often busy with both cars and students when school lets out.

Similarly, cars travel quickly down Crawford Street, which is not much more than an alley near the school, said Maggie Tome, who walks her 10-year-old son Lucas and some other students back across the Historic Harmar Railroad Bridge to her work after school.

“Some parents zoom by. We just yell at them to slow down,” she said.

But Tome would not be opposed to speed bumps being installed.

Schultheisz said some high-visibility, ladder style crosswalks are planned for parts of Harmar. The changes will make crosswalks stand out more, he said.

Another improvement would involve rebuilding 240 feet of sidewalk on Market Street along the school’s playground. Currently cars can park by the sidewalk, but no barrier prevents them from rolling right onto it, he said.

For Marietta Middle School, the installation of an island near the steps on Glendale Road would break the walk across the road in half and give students more time to watch out for speedy cars, said Schultheisz.

Marietta applied and was denied grant funding for the 2013 year, said Schultheisz.

“More and more people are hearing about the program. Last year, there were three times as much applied for as there were monies available,” he said.

However, the city recently applied for the 2014 grant and will likely hear whether or not it was approved in May.