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Soldotna encourages input for Safe Routes to School

Posted: November 13, 2013 - 10:22pm
John Czarneki, left,  talks about the Safe Routes to School project with Patrick Cotter, planner, and community member Barbara Norbeck at Tuesday's forum at Soldotna City Hall.
John Czarneki, left, talks about the Safe Routes to School project with Patrick Cotter, planner, and community member Barbara Norbeck at Tuesday's forum at Soldotna City Hall.

The City of Soldotna would like to encourage students to walk and bike to school.

In efforts to make alternative transportation a possibility, the city is asking for input from parents and families on the reasons why they either do or do not allow their students bike or walk to school, if possible.

The city kicked off its Safe Routes project this school year. With a grant from the Alaska Department of Transportation, the project will examine conditions around six Soldotna-area schools and create recommendations and activities to improve safety and reduce traffic near the schools.

A public forum was held Tuesday at Soldotna City Hall to allow parents and family members to share input about the project.

John Czarnezki, Soldotna City planner, was on hand at the forum where maps of proposed changes lined the center table and the walls.

“The Safe Routes to School is a national program that is focused on kindergarten through eighth-grade,” he said.

Routes to five public schools and one private school are being considered:

■ Kalifornsky Beach Elementary;

■ Redoubt Elementary;

■ Soldotna Elementary and Soldotna Montessori;

■ Soldotna Middle School;

■ Cook Inlet Academy.

A project team of planners, engineers, landscape architects and public engagement professionals are working with the city to conduct analysis, gather community input and develop strategies to promote biking and walking near schools.

At Tuesday’s forum, only one community member came to provide comment.

Barbara Norbeck, a member of the Central Peninsula Change Club, spoke to Czarnezki and Patrick Cotter, a planner with PDC Inc. Engineers, about the proposed project.

“We want to see folks using and accessing trails,” Norbeck said. “Any efforts toward that we support.”

Czarnezki said since the public input forum was not successful, city officials will look at other ways of involving families.

“We are looking at other options for input,” he said.

One way families can share their thoughts on allowing their students to walk or bike to school is a parent survey, which is open through Nov. 29. The short survey asks several questions about students’ proximity to school, how students arrive at school and what would make parents more comfortable about their students biking or walking.

Czarnezki said those involved with the project have also met with administrators.

“We have met with each of the schools principals, listened to what they think are the issues with both the school sites; the Safe Routes to School program looks at not only the walking and biking kids, but also the interaction between kids walking and biking and kids getting dropped off in cars and how that all plays out,” he said.

For the bulk of the six schools, what seemed to be the bigger issue, he said, was how kids were getting dropped off.

“Just the whole kids’ cars getting lined up in the road and kids darting in and out of cars that are trying to get out of the way,” Czarnezki said.

He said there are other opportunities on the half-mile walks to school where the project can help make it safer for kids to walk or bike.

“We are still in the data gathering stage,” he said. “The idea is really for us to gather information from families,” he said.

So far only 34 surveys have been submitted.

If it is snow accumulation, poorly lit sidewalks or traffic, Czarnezki said he hopes parents and family members will fill out the survey. Hard copies of the survey are also available at Soldotna City Hall.

“Those are the things we need to know so we can incorporate them into the plan,” Czarnezki said.

Reach Sara Hardan at sara.hardan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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