Nine-year-old Cameron Beachum walks to Northwoods Elementary School every day. He says he enjoys the exercise and socializing with his friends.
On Wednesday, Oct. 5, Cameron was joined on his walk by about 130 of his classmates for International Walk to School Day, an annual event where students walk and bike to school to enhance student health and raise awareness about safe routes.
Despite an overcast and slightly chilly morning, many of the children and their parents were excited and ready to walk the nearly one mile from Godbold Park to their school near downtown Cary.
Greg Couch, a member of the Northwoods Elementary School PTA, participated for his second time, leading the group along the town-owned Northwoods Greenway.
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“It’s a good way to start the morning,” he said. “My daughter, when we walk to school, she seems to have a much better day at school, concentrates better.”
This year’s event at Northwoods Elementary emphasized safety as it also helped kick of the N.C. Safe Routes to School program for the students, parents, teachers and community. The program works to make walking and bicycling to school safer and encourages more students and families to use those modes where possible.
Last week, one of the crossing guards, who was monitoring the crosswalk on Boundary Street, was consistently trying to slow down cars that were speeding through the area.
“This whole area really needs to be more bike- and walk-friendly, so having events like this really highlight that,” said Tiffanie Taylor, the school’s Safe Routes to School coordinator. “There’s a lot of things that we need to educate the community on, and I think that days like this are perfect days to help do that.”
Northwoods Elementary is one of five Wake County schools selected as partner schools to develop Safe Routes to School action plans, with the assistance of the University of North Carolina’s Highway Safety Research Center and other community partners, which will serve as models for other area schools.
Northwoods Elementary can use up to $16,000 in grant funding to implement the program. The money can go toward infrastructure improvements, including restriping high-visibility crosswalk markings, curb ramps and curb extensions, as well as community outreach efforts.
Implementing the program will include working with the town on improvements to the crossing at Boundary Street to add curb extensions to reduce pedestrian crossing distance, slow traffic and deter on-street parking. “No Parking” signs also may be installed to restrict on-street parking, discouraging parents from picking up their children there.
A walking school bus program, where students walk with one or more adults, also is being considered, Taylor said.
“We want to do a walking school bus from Boundary (Street) to have that more structured for the kids to be walking over instead of just like running across the street whenever they want,” she said.
Taylor said she hopes that improvements completed through the Safe Routes to School program would encourage more state and local investment in the area, particularly where students cross the street on Chapel Hill Road.
“Chapel Hill Road needs so much improvement,” she said. “It needs to be widened. We need sidewalks on there. So if we can use Safe Routes to kind of highlight some of these issues and use the small grant funds that we have to replace some little things and get some small programs going, then hopefully, it will help highlight the bigger picture.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608: @KTrogdon