Wayne State University

Wayne State University civil engineering faculty members receive Safe Routes to School grant to improve child pedestrian safety

A recent grant awarded to faculty members in Wayne State University’s Transportation Research Group (WSU-TRG) aims to make the neighborhoods near Michigan K-8 schools more pedestrian- and bicyclist-friendly and educate K-8 students about traffic safety.

Tapan K. Datta, Ph.D., P.E., professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering and resident of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and co-PI’s Timothy Gates, Ph.D., P.E. P.T.O.E., assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and resident of Northville, Mich., and Peter T. Savolainen, Ph.D., P.E., assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and resident of Huntington Woods, Mich., received $190,000 through the Michigan Fitness Foundation as part of a broader initiative sponsored by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The funding will go toward the development of traffic infrastructure improvements and safety education programs in various Michigan K-8 schools as a part of the Safe Route to School (SR2S) program.

“I am passionate about this program because it is so heavily geared toward children’s safety,” Datta said. “The infrastructure improvements that our group will develop, along with the accompanying educational programs, have the potential to improve the safety of children walking and bicycling to school anywhere in Michigan for many years to come.”

The national Safe Routes to School program was created in 2005 with the objective of making it safe, convenient and fun for children to bicycle and walk to school. Safe routes initiatives also help ease traffic jams and air pollution, unite neighborhoods and contribute to students’ readiness to learn in school.

In fall 2010, the National Safe Routes to School program allocated $11 million for statewide and local SR2S program activities, bringing the total funding to date to $559 million. At least 10,204 schools across the U.S. have benefitted or will benefit from these funds.

The Michigan Department of Transportation announced in August that 14 Michigan elementary and middle schools in eight counties will receive more than $1.8 million in federal Safe Routes to School funding for safety improvements and education programs. Funding will be used for infrastructure improvements such as new sidewalks and traffic calming projects and non-infrastructure activities that encourage and enable students to walk and bicycle to school.

“Many schools in Michigan were built decades ago, when student travel patterns and vehicle traffic volumes were much different,” Gates said. “Infrastructure improvements are necessary to facilitate and encourage safe travel for children going to and from school. We are excited to assist the SR2S-chosen schools in identifying problems and implementing improvements.”

The WSU-TRG will assess site-specific factors at schools throughout the state and recommend potential improvements including the construction of sidewalks, pedestrian warning signs and raised crosswalks, as well as traffic-calming techniques such as road narrowing. In order to assess the needs of each community, members of the WSU-TRG will conduct walking audits at selected elementary and middle schools assessing the different paths that children take to school. The audits will identify locations with a high risk for pedestrian crashes or near-crashes.

Some schools will also receive a K-8 pedestrian safety training software program customized to the layout of the area surrounding their schools. Datta expects to conduct audits at roughly one dozen schools in the next year, but the program template will be available to any school for its own use. The grant will also fund the development and prioritization of future SR2S programs.

The K-8 pedestrian safety training program, which was initially developed by the WSU-TRG as part of a project sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has already been introduced to 10,000 elementary school children in Detroit. The SR2S funding will enable statewide implementation of the program. “Our research has shown that targeted training, coupled with appropriate infrastructure improvements, have the potential to markedly improve pedestrian behavior,” Savolainen said. We look forward to making a contribution toward these positive changes at Michigan schools.”

For more information on the WSU-TRG, visit http://www.eng.wayne.edu/page.php?id=4677.
For more information on the SR2S program, visit http://saferoutesmichigan.org/.

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Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information on research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.