- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

MOVILLE, Iowa (AP) - Heath DeStigter watched the school bus drive six blocks from Woodbury Central School to drop off students at their homes.

The physical education teacher wondered, “Why aren’t they walking home? It’s beautiful out!”

DeStigter and other members of Moville’s Safe Routes to School/Complete Streets Coalition, which formed in 2014, learned some parents weren’t letting their kids walk or bike to school because they didn’t feel it was safe, the Sioux City Journal (http://bit.ly/1NAbaYz ) reported.

The city of roughly 1,600 people didn’t have a designated walking route to school that drivers were aware of. The sidewalks were also lacking curb ramps to ease passage to the street for pedestrians and cyclists.

Last fall, 14 curb ramps and ADA pads - mats with truncated domes - were installed on Fourth Street to make the route to school smoother and safer.

On March 2, the City of Moville passed a Complete Streets Resolution that says improvements to sidewalks and trails should be made in the community in upcoming years. The city budgeted $5,000 for additional curb ramps and ADA pads in fiscal year 2016-17.

These changes were spurred in part by a three-year, $120,458 grant awarded to Siouxland District Health Department and the Live Healthy Siouxland Coalition by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Angela Drent, Siouxland District Health Department health planner, said the Partnership to Improve Community Health Grant provides funds to address chronic diseases and their associated risk factors, such as limited access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity in Woodbury County.

During the first year of the grant, Drent worked with the Moville and Sergeant Bluff-Luton school districts to create safe routes to school and the city councils to adopt complete streets resolutions. This year, she’s also working with the Westwood and Lawton-Bronson school districts to identify the safest walking routes to school.

“The overall goal is to really increase opportunities for physical activity for those kids and to get them to and from school safely,” she said. “It also provides us an opportunity to educate them, so that they can cross an intersection appropriately if they’re biking.”

In all four of the communities, Drent conducted walkability assessments to gauge the condition of sidewalks and identify the speed limits along school walking routes and missing signage at school crossings. She was assisted by Kathie Pfaffle, a GIS specialist and transportation planner for Siouxland Interstate Metropolitan Planning Council.

Drent said the lack of sidewalks in rural communities is an issue. Years ago, sidewalks weren’t that important to residents. She said cities didn’t mandate that sidewalks be put in when homes were built.

“Most of the communities now have sidewalk ordinances, but it’s getting them to work with the residents on maintaining the sidewalks that are existing. The other thing that we see a lot in some of the rural communities — Moville — is the lack of curb ramps and the ADA pads,” she said.

“If you’re in a wheelchair you can’t get up and down off of a curb safely. (Curb ramps) are also really nice for parents with strollers or young kids who are learning how to bike-ride.”

With a clipboard, scoring sheet and camera in hand, Molly Hayworth, a sixth-grader at Woodbury Central, helped Drent assess the sidewalks on Second Street for more than a half-mile north through downtown and toward the city’s ball fields.

“The sidewalks were really demolished. There were pieces everywhere and in some places they didn’t have sidewalks,” Hayworth said. “With the softball and baseball fields, the kids need to ride bikes or walk to get there sometimes.”

Moville Mayor Jim Fisher said the city council knew there were problems with the sidewalks, but until they saw the pictures from the assessment, he said they didn’t realize how bad they really were.

Fisher said adding curb ramps is expensive. When the city upgraded its water main last summer, he said the council decided to add 14 curb ramps and ADA pads to the project. If each curb was revamped individually, he said it would’ve cost the city $1,000 a curb.

“What we’re trying to do is set a little money aside and do a few curbs each year,” he said. “Second-, third-, fourth-graders — they ride on the sidewalk which is acceptable. We’d much rather have them there than the street. There are a couple (curbs) close to school that we want to get taken care of this summer.”

Hayworth said it appears more kids are walking and biking to school along the Fourth Street route. Most days she walks or bikes to school.

“I usually bike when it is warmer,” she said. “I remember when I was littler, when I rode my bike I felt free.”

DeStigter said studies have shown children who are physically active have higher reading and math scores. Although exercise through play is encouraged, he said Woodbury Central did away with recess time before school because of accidents that were occurring. Now, students gather in the gym each day before classes begin.

“This kind of gives them a reason to get out and get some fresh air and be a little active before they have to go to class,” he said of Safe Routes to School.

Last May, DeStigter said students who walked or rode a bike to school for 10 days straight were entered in a drawing to win a Fitbit activity tracker. He said the contest, along with the addition of bicycle racks and a parking pad on school property, have encouraged more students to walk and bike to school.

A bike rodeo on April 19 gave 28 students the opportunity to have their bikes checked and helmets fitted, while learning and practicing safe bicycle riding on a course marked by tennis balls, cones and traffic signage. Drent said wearing bicycle helmets isn’t a common practice in rural communities.

“We really would like to see an increase in helmet use,” she said. “Helmets are important to prevent traumatic brain injuries.”

Walking Wednesdays also kicked off in Moville last month. Students gather in a group on Wednesdays to form a Walking School Bus, which is led by adults.

DeStigter said the Safe Routes to School program is popular with students. He encourages other small communities to try it.

“Once it’s organized, it really runs itself if you can get the kids motivated,” he said. “Once you get a couple of the kids to try it, they tell their buddies, and they tell them how much fun it is.”

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Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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