Creating Safe Routes to School

by Jill Locantore on June 2, 2016

Viaduct Credit Denver Post

New reports recommend strategies for improving walkability around four Denver elementary schools

In 1969, 48 percent of children 5 to 14 years of age usually walked or bicycled to school. By 2009, that number fell to just 13 percent. One of the major factors contributing to this decline is community and street designs that make walking unpleasant or even dangerous.

This past year, WalkDenver assessed pedestrian conditions around four Denver elementary schools – Munroe, Smith, Swansea, and Valverde – using the WALKscope online data collection tool.  Based on this data, as well as community input, WalkDenver developed recommendations for improving pedestrian access to the schools and other neighborhood destinations.

Neighborhoods around all four schools suffered from many of the same walkability challenges, including missing, deteriorated, and substandard sidewalks, a lack of street trees and pedestrian-scale lighting, wide travel lanes that encourage speeding, and unsafe intersections. Therefore WalkDenver made the following recommendations for all of the schools:

Enhance pedestrian crossing treatments at intersections surrounding the school by adding bulbouts; raising the crosswalks to reinforce safe travel speeds and the residential nature of the streets; and using artistic crosswalk designs to further increase visibility and contribute to the neighborhood’s sense of place.

Extended curbs and raised crosswalkExtended curbs (bulbouts) and raised crosswalks increase pedestrian visibility and safety at intersections. Source: NACTO 

Create pedestrian priority corridors for each neighborhood (Knox Court and Virginia Avenue at Munroe Elementary; 35th Avenue at Smith Elementary; 47th Avenue, Columbine Street and Clayton Street at Swansea Elementary; Alameda Avenue and Tejon Street at Valverde Elementary) by repairing existing sidewalks that have become significantly cracked and uneven; adding new sidewalks where missing; widening substandard sidewalks to be at least 5 five feet wide; narrowing the travel lanes; introducing curves or chicanes to calm traffic; adding street trees and quality landscaping to provide shade, enhance the pedestrian “microclimate” and calm traffic; and adding pedestrian-scale lighting to improve pedestrian safety at night.

The reports also include recommendations for addressing unique challenges at each of the schools, such as providing a grade-separated pedestrian crossing at 47th and York, the only connection between Swansea Elementary and areas to the west of the railroad tracks that cuts through the neighborhood. This intersection presents severe challenges, where the railroad and two major roads converge. Parents report that students must sometimes wait up to 40 minutes for trains to clear the intersection, making them late for school.

148237_origPedestrians waiting to cross the railroad tracks at 47th and York. Source: Globeville Elyria-Swansea LiveWell

Click on the links below to download the full reports for each school:

The Colorado Department of Transportation funded this work through a Safe Routes to School non-infrastructure grant, managed by the Denver Department of Environmental Health. The grant also funded educational programming at the participating schools, provided by Bicycle Colorado and BikeDenver.

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