Bike-to-school event to help further Centre Region’s bicycle goals

jvanderk@centredaily.comOctober 7, 2013 

With 10 to 12 percent of Corl Street Elementary students and staff already riding their bikes to school, the State College school has a jump on participation in Wednesday’s Walk and Bike to School Day.

“Corl Street is fortunate to be a neighborhood school connected to some extent by bike paths and sidewalks to the neighborhoods in our attendance area,” said Principal Scott Mato. “Fortunately, quite a few of our families and some staff members prefer to walk or ride bikes to school.”

The students, teachers and staff who participate in the National Center for Safe Routes to School program will be key to advancing the Centre Region’s goals of becoming a Bicycle Friendly Community beyond its current bronze status.

The region’s municipalities last year earned the status together from the League of American Cyclists, and received a lengthy report filled with some praise and plenty of recommendations for improvement.

Regional transportation planner Trish Meek earlier this month explained a list of short-term goals — within one to five years — which have been delegated to the Council of Governments, municipalities, the Centre Region Bicycle Coalition and State College Area School District.

Many are in progress and include increasing bike connectivity, increasing and standardizing bike parking facilities, increasing the number of wide shoulders and bike lanes and offering bike maintenance classes.

Another in progress is the formation of a Bicycle Advisory Committee, which the league called “critical to building public support for bicycle improvements” by involving the public in creating policies, plans and completing projects.

Meek said the Bicycle Coalition is taking the lead on forming the committee, finding members from local police departments, the school district, cycling organizations and bike shops. Meek and the Centre Regional Planning Agency will play a limited role, offering support and answering questions.

“We need buy-in,” she said, which then can lead to planning and bicycle projects.

Some of those goals also relate directly to schools, such as including bicycle safety education at public schools and implementing Safe Routes to School programs that emphasize cycling for elementary and high school students.

Schools across the nation officially can sign up to promote their walking and biking events on Wednesday and, as of Friday, Corl Street, Park Forest and Bellefonte elementaries had done so.

A new collaboration between State College and Penn State, which will have borough staff, university faculty and students completing sustainability projects together, will use the Corl Street event to develop a health campaign.

Clay Chiles, an AmeriCorps member working with the borough, said a biobehavioral health class will survey parents after the event to assess any barriers to getting more families to walk and bike, and determine how the borough can help improve those routes.

In terms of barriers, Mato said if riders and walkers don’t cross the streets where the school’s crossing guards are stationed, “there is no safe way to access the school from West College, West Beaver or Westerly Parkway.”

And it’s tough to get to school from the Stonebridge neighborhood, off Bristol Avenue, Mato said.

“It can be a challenge to cross Blue Course and navigate around or through the Greentree neighborhood,” he said.

Chiles hopes to focus on such problem areas and creating better networks and systems.

And that goes back to the region’s list of goals.

“I think it’s key,” Meek said of this week’s school event. “If we educate children, then they take that back to their families.”

 

Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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