NASHUA — City officials on Tuesday accepted a federal grant to add pedestrian safety features around Charlotte Avenue Elementary School, but concerns were raised about existing walking routes around other city schools as well.
The Board of Aldermen unanimously authorized the $100,000 grant from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation as part of its final round of funding for the Safe Routes to School initiative. The grant, which includes a $36,500 match from the city, will likely be used to install flashing lights and speed indicators in the area of the school, as well as a new crosswalk, sidewalk and drainage improvements.
The grant being awarded to Nashua is one of the last in the state for the SRTS program. While the funding was approved on Tuesday, at least one alderman voiced concerns about safety for students walking to and from Mount Pleasant Elementary School in Ward 3.
“I am deeply concerned about Mount Pleasant School and the kids that have to walk there,” said Alderman David Schoneman, Ward 3, adding there are several parents who believe the walking routes create a danger for city children.
Schoneman stressed that he is highly supportive of the grant for Charlotte Avenue School improvements, but again highlighted worries from parents who have children walking to Mount Pleasant School.
According to Schoneman, about 10 percent of the students at Charlotte Avenue School walk to and from school, while a greater amount of Mount Pleasant students are walkers.
Alderman-at-Large Diane Sheehan said she understands the concerns at Mount Pleasant but echoed concerns about a lack of a sidewalk near Charlotte Avenue School.
“Traffic calming measures need to take place in order to remind people that this is a school zone. We need some massive safety improvements there,” Sheehan said.
Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said Tuesday that other efforts are under way to hopefully improve safety for young students walking to city schools. A new initiative dubbed “walk stops” is being pursued as a joint partnership with the Greater Nashua YMCA, the Nashua Public Health Department and area nonprofit groups to promote safer routes to school.
“That analysis has begun,” said Lozeau, adding she hopes it will launch in the next school year.
A member of the Mount Pleasant School parent teacher group addressed the board, echoing comments about student safety and sharing a story about two children who were nearly struck by a vehicle while inside of a crosswalk near the school.
Since 2005, New Hampshire has received more than $8 million in SRTS funding to help numerous towns and cities rebuild their pedestrian infrastructure, according to the state DOT website.
Although the state is transitioning away from SRTS as a stand-alone program, other federal funding from a new Transportation Alternative Program may still be available.
The amount of American children who frequently walk to school has declined drastically over the past four decades, says the website. In 1969, about 48 percent of students ages 5 to 14 either walked or biked to school. Today, that number is closer to 15 percent.