COURTLAND TOWNSHIP — The new school year is well underway and one statewide group is working to make available grant funds that will help make the trip to and from school safer for those students who find their way on foot.
Adrianna Jordan, Safe Routes to School operations coordinator for the region, presented to the Greater Greenville Transportation Committee at its Wednesday meeting requirements for schools and communities to obtain the funds, which can go toward anything from educating students on pedestrian safety to sidewalk and crosswalk improvements.
The program, Jordan said, is designed to promote walking to school by providing safe routes.
“The benefits of the program … there is reduced gas consumption, cost savings, reduced pollution because the air quality around schools right now has been getting worse,” Jordan said. “We see a lot of cases of childhood asthma, so this can help with that and relieve the congestion.”
But she said perhaps the most important aspect of walking to school is the health of students.
“It increases physical activity, which means healthier kids.”
According to a national study, Jordan said, 30 percent of children in the United States are considered obese, up from just eight percent in 1969. While noting their may not be a direct correlation, Jordan said the percentage of students who walked to school went from 50 percent in 1969 to just 15 percent more recently.
“Scientifically there may not be a correlation, but they are pretty astonishing statistics,” she said.
The grants are provided through federal funds, which primarily come from a portion of the gas tax. The grants previously required a 20 percent local match for any projects, but Jordan said that is now paid for by the Michigan Department of Transportation through bridge toll credits. With less local funds needed to obtain the grants, the number of schools and communities chasing the money have increased.
“Funding is competitive. There are a lot of applicants around the state that are working on Safe Routes to School federal grants,” Jordan said
Dave Bee, director of the West Michigan Regional Planning Commission, said he was unaware of any schools in Montcalm County which have requested Safe Routes funds, but said some could greatly benefit from them. He said nearby schools such as Lowell and Allegan have utilized the funds.