PORT CHESTER, N.Y. -- A group of school officials and community leaders are working to encourage Port Chester students to safely walk to school.
The Safe Routes to School Committee kicked off the efforts to improve pedestrian safety in Port Chester at a workshop Tuesday at Port Chester Middle School. The workshop was sponsored by the Rye YMCA and led by Jeff Olson of Alta Planning and Design, who works with communities attempting to implement Safe Routes to School programs. Those in attendance included school administrators, members of the Port Chester Board of Trustees and Board of Education, representatives from community organizations and Rye Brook and Port Chester police.
Olson said that the number of kids who walk or bike to school has decreased from more than half in the 1970's to about 10 percent today. He said that there are many reasons to encourage kids to walk to school, such as environmental or health reasons, but it is important to make sure the routes they take are safe.
Port Chester only buses students who live more than two miles away from their school. Port Chester Middle School Principal Patrick Swift said that unlike some of the more affluent towns around the village, many Port Chester students walk to school.
"Many of our students walk very long distances. Our neediest children walk the furthest," he said.
Olson said that it's important that the community remain committed to encouraging safe routes to school, and there are often grants and other creative solutions to make proposals happen. "If you keep pushing the good ideas forward, the resources will find them."
The attendees broke off into groups and discussed the "Five E's" of safe routes: education, engineering, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation. Among the ideas proposed to help increase safe walking include having kids meet up and walk together, having parents walk their students' routes to school, education campaigns to raise awareness about safe walking, newsletters to parents, increased signage and tickets around the schools, and more community coordination.
The committee currently consists of School Athletic Director Joseph Durney, Middle School Principal Patrick Swift, Assistant Superintendent Frank Fanelli, Ellette Hirschorn of Open Door Family Medical Center, Laura Tiedge and Lisa Urban of the Rye YMCA and Board of Education member Carolee Brakewood. The group will meet more regularly moving forward, and will work to create a larger committee of community members who can make the walk to school safer for Port Chester students.