Lake Tahoe Unified Schools trying to plan safe routes for students |

Lake Tahoe Unified Schools trying to plan safe routes for students

Tom Lotshaw

Lake Tahoe Unified Schools is putting together a fast-track grant application for funding to create a comprehensive Safe Routes to School plan that would identify projects and programs to encourage carpooling and bus use and help children walk and bike safely to school.

The initiative is funded by a $10,000 grant from Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. The Safe Routes to School application is due to Caltrans May 21.

Parents, school officials and consultants audited pedestrian access issues at each of the district’s four elementary schools Monday and Tuesday, listing potential future improvements that were then discussed at a community meeting Wednesday at the middle school.

“My takeaway from visiting the schools is that each has a significant challenge and almost different needs in each location, with school bus systems, travel patterns in and out of the school grounds and conflicting movements,” said Steve Teshara, of Sustainable Community Advocates, a group helping hired consultant Alta Planning and Design prepare the grant application.

Ideas for Bijou Community School include a sidewalk along Spruce Avenue in front of the school. Many students are walking to school along the street, but there are no sidewalks and lots of parked cars.

At Sierra House, one targeted improvement would create better crosswalks on Pioneer Trail and better paths leading up to the school.

Cindy Martinez, principal at Bijou Community School, said better pedestrian access and more carpooling and bus use are top priorities. Bijou has 572 students, with many of them coming to the school from different areas, she said.

“Coming in during winter there’s not enough space to walk safely. Even now, on a beautiful spring day, it’s not clearly marked where sidewalks or crosswalks are and cars are parking where parents and students are walking.”

As part of the Safe Routes to School grant application, school officials and community members are listing dozens of ideas for improvements at and around each of the four elementary schools as well as ways to link them to other parts of the city. Ideas range from new sidewalks and trails to better striping and signs and lower speed limits.

The master plan also would look at ways to encourage families to walk, bike, take buses or carpool, and devise a plan to evaluate the success of those efforts, said Jennifer Donlon Wyant, a senior planner with Sacramento-based Alta Planning and Design.

A Safe Routes to School master plan would help the school district apply for more funding to make improvements. Ideally, a grant to create the plan would be awarded this summer, with the plan developed next school year and applications for project funding submitted in 2015.

In a separate but related initiative, another $153,000 grant from TRPA is funding a Middle School Area Connectivity Plan. The goal of that effort is to develop a shovel-ready project to extend a bike path on Al Tahoe Boulevard to the middle school, U.S. 50 and South Lake Tahoe recreation grounds to the north.

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