By Andrew Cluley
New safe ways to walk to Clague Middle School were celebrated on international walk to school day with a ribbon cutting ceremony. A new sidewalk along Nixon Road and new crossings of Nixon and Green are the result of a partnership between the Ann Arbor Public Schools, the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County Public Health and a Safe Routes to School grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Making it safer and easier for students to walk to school can help create healthier kids. “Children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day,” says Executive Director, Community Services and School Wellness, Jenna Bacolor. “Walking and bicycling to school is a great way for students to get some of their physical activity while enjoying the fresh air,” she says. “Walk to School Day events like this one are an easy way for students and families to try walking and bicycling to school.”
The improvements are several years in the making, but Lily Guzman Performance Improvement Manager for Washtenaw County Public Health says they really address a community need. “It was just such a gap in the community and in the neighborhood, and so just having the kids being able to use it and even getting the adults off the street and on the sidewalk is just fantastic,” Guzman says. “From a safety perspective it’s going to be a huge improvement.”
Ann Arbor City Council member Kirk Westphal agrees the added safety value of these improvements is important for pedestrians of all ages. “Statistically one of the most dangerous things any Ann Arborite does on a daily basis is interact with cars, so this may seem like a small piece of the puzzle but it’s a really important one,” says Westphal.
He hopes the collaboration that came together to create a safer route to Clague will have long lasting impacts. “Any time we can help younger people especially, get into the routine of walking to get places is a huge step forward so hopefully this will have a real impact throughout these kids lives,” Westphal says.
Clague Principal Che Carter says he’s already seeing a difference, with more people of all ages walking. Carter hopes the new sidewalk and crossings will also further bring together the school and the neighborhood. “I think this is just going to bring out more traffic and more families out to spend time here during the weekend and early evening hours. It just makes our school like a community center, like a school should be,” Carter says.
Improving routes to school is an important step, but not the only effort underway at Clague to promote healthy students and community members. The Board of Education last month approved a contract for the construction of the Cougar Trail. The nearly half-mile long, eight foot wide path will be available for community members in the evening and on weekends. Clague’s PTO contributed about $30,000 for the project after surveying families to make sure the trail had support in the community.
Carter says families are pumped about the project and he’s pleased that it should be ready for use this fall. He says, “Making sure that families know that I hear their voices and we are aligning our school with the community and making sure we’re meeting collective goals at times really does enhance the school environment.”
Thanks to some of the safe routes to school improvements the Cougar Trail is expected to also serve as a resource for Logan and Thruston Elementary Schools.