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Monday, April 23, 2012

Students and Supporters Push for Safe Routes To School

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN

(04/23/12) ST. PAUL, Minn. - As state lawmakers try to agree on a bonding bill for public works projects before the 2012 session ends, the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota is hoping they include funds for a state Safe Routes to School program. Executive director Dorian Grilley says there's a federal program, but it doesn't cover high schools or private schools and the need outstrips the demand.

"The federal funds are only available to middle schools and elementary schools. And the other problem is that when Minnesota requested grant applications in 2011, they received $23 million in requests and they only had $3.7 million to grant."

The state program would allow high schools and private schools to apply for funds to be used to provide more sidewalks, paths, crosswalks, bike lanes, and pedestrian bridges so kids could walk or bike safely to school.

Grilley says in addition to safety, the program would also help take a step toward cutting down on the epidemic of childhood obesity.

"Walking and biking to school can provide a significant percentage of the physical activity that the health professionals are recommending that we get every day."

A number of high school pupils across the state are also pushing for the funds. Samantha Kalso of Mounds View says she learned about the issue first hand.

"I wanted a 'Bike to School Day,' but the school would not let us do that because of the safety concerns, and so if the Safe Routes to School bill passed it would make biking to school easier and safer for students like me."

Kalso's classmate Patrick Sullivan concurs, saying he doesn't ride his bike to school because the trail he'd have to take doesn't go all the way.

"It stops 300 meters from school and then you have to essentially drive against traffic on this kind of gravel surface. It's really unsafe. One of my friends and neighbors, his brother was hit there twice."

The Alliance and other supporters are requesting $3 million be included in a bonding bill for Safe Routes to School.

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