Bulb-outs and More for MLK Students

Safe Routes to School funds roadway improvements to boost safety, reduce pollution, promote exercise.

Caltrans has awarded Berkeley more than $408,000 in Safe Routes to School funds to pay for a host of improvements near Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School.

The desired effect: more kids walking, pedaling and skateboarding to and from school and between school and the library – without the risk of critical injury.

The money will pay for signals, pedestrian “refuge” islands, drainage, striping and curb-painting at the intersection of Hopkins Street and the Alameda, as well as sidewalk extensions called “bulb-outs” on each corner that will reduce the length of the crosswalk.

Launched in 1999, Safe Routes to School was extended indefinitely in 2007 by the state legislature, with money coming from the State Highway Account. Safe Routes partners with TransForm California, a nonprofit organization, and city engineers to plan projects and seek funding.

"There's a lot of involvement so we get a good quality of recommendations," said Matt Nichols, senior transportation planner for the city.

But securing a grant can take years, however.

”This is the second year we applied,” Nichols said. “At Malcolm X (Elementary School), we applied three times before we got it.”

This grant fills a particularly critical need, given the age of the students, said Amber Evans, volunteer coordinator for Safe Routes to School.

Parents who biked along with their children through elementary school suddenly find “middle schoolers don’t want their parents riding with them, and they don’t want their parents walking with them," she said.

At the same time, “Parents perceive the Berkeley infrastructure as all about cars,” she said. “Generally, the grants target the largest intersections, and those are the biggest barrier for parents in letting their kids walk or bike to school. That’s the critical piece.”

MLK already champions exercise. The entire sixth grade takes bicycle safety classes, and the school holds Walk and Roll days to encourage kids to get to school on their own steam.

“We get a bike hooked up to a smoothie maker,” said PTA president Sophie Hahn. “They love that.”

Work will not begin immediately, Nichols said. City crews are at work on Safe Routes projects at four elementary schools: Malcolm X, Thousand Oaks and Rosa Parks and Berkeley Arts Magnet at Whittier.

More than $7 million of the funds were awarded to critical safety projects in rural counties. In addition, 82 projects totaling $28 million will create jobs and benefit at least one low-income school within each project according to a press statement released by Caltrans.

This year, Safe Routes to School gave out $48 million in grants. To date, the program has awarded $472 million for safety projects around California’s schools.

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