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Students walk/pedal to Farnell

Does Your Child Walk or Pedal to School?

Hillsborough County's "Safe Routes to School" program identifies challenges, commits to meeting them

Students who walk, pedal, or roll to campus are the focus of Hillsborough County's Safe Routes to School initiative. The program is based on evidence that physical upgrades help provide for students' safety, reduce motor vehicle traffic, and encourage exercise.

Leto High School in Tampa is one of the first campuses to benefit from the effort. Before the coronavirus outbreak cut short the 2019-2020 school year, Leto students who walked to campus relied on their wits and school-led instructions about how to cross intersections. This fall, new crosswalks, crossing signals, and other measures will help improve students' safety.

"It has been a concern for us that certain intersections around our school do not have crosswalks or crossing signals," says Manley Eugene, Leto's Assistant Principal for Student Affairs and a participant on a virtual SRTS advisory panel of Leto school leaders and community members.

The County's Engineering & Operations staff, working with school and local law enforcement officials, long has targeted safety trouble spots. The SRTS effort is an additional step and a collective effort to take a countywide look, prioritize problems, and fix them.

Two changes helped spur the initiative. In 2017, Hillsborough County Public Schools ended courtesy busing for middle- and high-school students who live within 2 miles of their schools. The following year the school district changed starting times for elementary-, middle-, and high-school students. The adjustments mean more middle- and high-school students have had to find their own way to and from school, and elementary-school students have begun some days in the dark.

Three schools in northwest Hillsborough County will be the first to see changes under the SRTS program, perhaps as soon as when classes begin in August. Pierce Middle and Alexander Elementary schools are adjacent campuses, just north of Hillsborough Avenue. Leto is less than 1 mile north on Sligh Avenue. When leaders inventoried all County schools and prioritized their access needs, Pierce stood out. Leto came in second. Alexander shares many of the same travel routes as its neighbor, Pierce, and thus was a logical add-on campus for the intense focus.

In May, County transportation staffers led virtual Advisory Committee meetings. Leaders and representatives of the three schools, families, crossing guards, and community members shared observations and concerns, and suggested remedies. County engineers, working with school administrators and law enforcement officials, now are developing plans to improve pedestrian and biker safety to and from each campus. Upgrades can be physical features such as sidewalks, crosswalks, turn lanes, or signage, implemented in phases.

After improvements are made around the three initial campuses, Engineering & Operations will make similar safety enhancements at other schools in Hillsborough County.

Photo: Students going to Farnell Middle School cross a side street along Nine Eagles Drive.