Upper Arlington is now eligible for a state grant program that makes kids' daily trek to school a little safer.

Upper Arlington is now eligible for a state grant program that makes kids' daily trek to school a little safer.

City council approved a resolution June 27 adopting a Safe Routes to School plan at Barrington, Tremont, Greensview and Windermere Elementary schools in an effort to encourage students to walk or bike to school. Such a plan is needed for the city to be eligible for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT)'s Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program, which has awarded about $32 million statewide to projects that make students' commute safer.

Emma Speight, deputy city manager for community affairs, said Upper Arlington has been working on a plan for about a year and a half, conducting research and brainstorming before a formal plan was finalized for presentation to ODOT.

The SRTS program aims to assist communities in developing and implementing projects and programs that "encourage and enable children in grades K-8, including those with disabilities, to walk or bike to school safely," according to ODOT.

The program addresses five areas to reach that goal - engineering (creating infrastructure improvements), education (teaching children and caregivers about transportation choices), enforcement (partnering with local law enforcement), encouragement (promoting walking and biking), and evaluation (monitoring and documenting outcomes).

The efforts of residents such as Christina Muldoon and Wendy Panero, coordinators of the Walk/Bike Committee at Barrington Elementary, helped the city pull the plan together, Speight said. Muldoon delivered a presentation to council at its last meeting on how the program works, and the two women worked to organize the school's committee in the spring of 2010.

"We're very lucky as a community. A lot of our citizens get very engaged in what they care about, and we've had quite a few projects completed around the schools because of their cheerleading."

While Upper Arlington's engineering department has worked to design where sidewalks could be built as part of the plan, assistant city manager Joe Valentino said during the June 20 conference session that the plan doesn't obligate the city to install those sidewalks; it only lays the groundwork for grants and provides studies that show where sidewalks could be installed to have the biggest impact.

SRTS grants can be a significant amount. ODOT awarded $11.6 million for 90 projects in 2010, with the city of Gahanna receiving about $2 million. The grants are awarded to the closest proximity outward (within one mile) to the schools, and can also be used for education, crossing guards and other safety measures.

Council member Mary Ann Krauss offered her thanks to those who put the plan together.

"It is really quite a masterpiece, and (Muldoon) and (Panero) both did an outstanding job," Krauss said. "If they are successful in securing grants, we will be very grateful, not only the children but the community. This could mean a great deal of money to the community for sidewalk projects."

With the travel plan in place, Upper Arlington will have until Oct. 31 to submit the plan to ODOT. The next application cycle for Ohio SRTS projects will be from January to March 2012.

A copy of the city's school travel plan can be viewed online at www.uaoh.net.