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Kim Bierbrauer has three boys who go to Fairmount Elementary School in Golden. Anytime the weather is above 40 degrees, the Bierbrauer boys either walk or ride their bikes to school.
“I just think there are so many benefits to getting exercise before they have to go sit in a classroom to learn,” she said. “Kids should be able to walk or bike to school without stress. Managing stress is what getting exercise is all about.”
Despite that her children, who are 4, 8 and 10 years old, love riding their bikes any chance they get, the half-mile commute to Fairmount is one that she won’t let them do alone because it’s too dangerous.
Currently, there is no pedestrian or bike path along West 50th Avenue. But thanks to the efforts of other parents and neighbors, the area will soon be getting a new sidewalk.
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) announced in May that its transportation commission is providing $2.5 million in grant money to fund 14 Safe Routes to School (SRTS) projects this year.
“By building a sidewalk to a school, it creates not just a safer walking path for kids, it encourages walking as part of a more active lifestyle,” said Steve Durian, Jefferson County’s director of transportation and engineering. “Teaching kids the habit of walking as a means of mobility can start with the morning walk to school, and develop into a lifelong appreciation of using their own two feet to get out and experience the world.”
Jefferson County’s grant award from CDOT will fund 80 percent of a sidewalk project along West 50th Avenue, a road that services Fairmount, 15975 W. 50th Ave., and Cornerstone Montessori School, 15970 W. 50th Ave. The area is in unincorporated Jefferson County with a Golden postal address. Arvada city limits are roughly two miles both to the east and north.
The funding will go toward Phase I of a project anticipated to be completed in three phases, dependent on how much funding can be achieved, Durian said. Total distance of the project is estimated to be almost 4,000 linear feet along West 50th Avenue between Easley Road and McIntyre Street. The estimated cost for Phase I is $331,316. CDOT funded $265,053, and the county’s match is 20 percent of the total cost, or $66,263. The money will cover the sidewalk itself, a pushbutton crosswalk and a storm sewer.
Phase I is about 1,000 linear feet, between McIntyre Street and Fairmount’s entrance. Construction of is anticipated to occur in summer 2018.
The county worked in partnership with Jefferson County Public Health and Jeffco Public Schools. The health department formed a SRTS subcommittee within its School Wellness Coalition to help develop and submit the grant application to CDOT, said Elise Waln, special projects coordinator at Jefferson County Public Health.
“This project will provide essential infrastructure for students to safely walk and bike to school, where there was no safe means to do so before,” Waln said. “We look forward to supporting the SRTS educational and encouragement efforts at Fairmount Elementary and getting more students safely walking and biking to school.”
Fairmount was built in 1961, and had additions done in the late 1990s and 2000s, Principal Sally Mills said. The infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with the growth, she said.
The area, originally, was rural, Mills said, but over the years, it’s grown a lot and “the need for sidewalks was neglected.”
Currently West 50th Avenue is a narrow road with one traffic lane for each direction. There are no wide shoulders, bike lanes or sidewalks, she said.
“It’s not a nice road,” Mills said. “It really scares me thinking about their (students’) safety.”
Another main concern is the school’s accessibility to its emergency evacuation location, which is the Denver Kickers Sport Club facility — a 15 or 20 minute walk from the school along West 50th Avenue.
When a school-wide drill was done in May, hundreds of students had to walk in a single-file line against traffic. For the drill, sheriff’s office blocked off the road to traffic, but in a real emergency situation, that may not be possible, Mills said.
“It’s the parents’ decision how they get their kids to school,” Mills said.
But with the current condition of West 50th Avenue, walking and biking to school without adult supervision is not a mode of transportation Mills suggests to parents, she added.
There are a lot of roads in the county that were built when traffic demands were much less than they are today, Durian said.
“In these areas, sidewalks can be expensive to retrofit and the county has a limited budget,” he said. “By leveraging a grant like this one, it makes the construction of a sidewalk a viable project where otherwise, it might not make sense to be a priority when compared to other urgent infrastructure needs.”
Sometime near the end of the school year, Fairmount teachers asked each of their students how they got to school that day, every day for one week. Out of a school population of about 650 students, less than 10 said they walked, and only two or three said they rode a bike, Mills said.
It demonstrates the need for the sidewalk, she said. The area is walkable, and offers a lot of amenities, such as nearby parks and access to bike trails. A lot more families would probably walk or bike to school, if there were a safe route to do so, Mills said.
“The primary goal of this project is to increase the number of students and parents walking and riding bikes to and from Fairmount Elementary School and Cornerstone Montessori School,” said Yelena Onnen the transportation planner for Jeffco’s transportation and engineering department. “We worked closely with the schools and several parents on this grant application.”
Adria Lucerna has a 9-year-old son who goes to Fairmount. Fairmount’s PTA reached out to her to help spearhead the project because of her background as a transportation engineer.
The original request was to take a look at the functionality of the school’s parking lot, Lucerna said. Her findings were that the parking lot allows for traffic flow that meets the needs of the school, she said. But at morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up, there are long lines of cars along West 50th Avenue, she said.
“It’s a mess,” Lucerna said. “The parking lot functions well. The problem is the amount of cars coming to Fairmount.”
The sidewalk will create a safe way for children and families to commute to school, cutting back on the car traffic, Lucerna said.
“The Safe Routes to School project is just a start,” she said. “But it’s a good start.”
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