I recently had the opportunity to speak to Mayor Carolyn Thompson of Elkton, Tennessee. Elkton has fewer than 20,000 residents and is about twenty-five miles north of Huntsville, Alabama. Elkton has one elementary school with 327 students in pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade. They also do not have any sidewalks in their town.
In 2011, Mayor Thompson learned of an opportunity to provide a safe way for these students to walk to and from school. With the help of the Southeast Development District, they applied for and were awarded a Safe Routes to School Grant, administered by the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT).
The grant will create a sidewalk about .04 miles in length. Not very long distance, however it will provide a safe connection between the school and the main street through town. The new sidewalk, expected to be completed by the summer of 2014, will also link to the walking track at the school with the community, making it easier for residents to walk for exercise. Another bonus: students will be able to walk safely to the library that is at the city hall where a computer is available for the public to use.
Currently about 10 percent of the student body walks to school. However, a high percentage of students, up to 40 percent, could walk to school because they live within two miles of the school. The Mayor says she hopes with the right encouragement, education and the completion of the sidewalk more students will start walking or even biking to school.
Despite the fact that the sidewalk project has not been completed yet, the community has already held a safety day and a school wide walk to school event. On Walk to School Day the students met at a nearby church and walked together to the school. Those students who ride the bus to school got permission to be dropped off at the church so they could also walk. During the Safety Day the Mayor, the police department and the fire department all helped to educate the students, families and teachers. TDOT brought ‘Safety City’ to the school to provide "hands-on" safety education in a child-size setting. The miniature city is complete with buildings, streets and sidewalks, working traffic signals and traffic signs. The students received classroom instruction in basic pedestrian, vehicular and bicycle safety then, they practiced the safety skills they learned and were given encouragement items like reflective stickers. A local radio station in nearby Pulaski, Tennessee, invited the Mayor onto their morning show to speak about the event. The city of Elkton is very proud that every child at the school went through the program.
So just how far can you go in .04 miles? There’s no telling how far the new connections made between the city government, the school, the students, community members, police and fire department will go. That new sidewalk not only connects the school to the main street in town, it brings the children to school and it connects the community in a project that will be there for future generations to use. In Elkton, .04 miles of sidewalk is not the end, it’s just the beginning.