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Town Seeks to Improve Walkability and Expand Walking School Bus Program

by Matt Ristaino
August 23, 2019

With the new school year fast approaching, the Holliston Parent Teacher Organization is working to improve and expand the walking school bus program that it established last spring.

Select Board member Tina Hein, who has been the PTO’s primary coordinator of the program, said that the PTO is working with the Town and Massachusetts Safe Routes to School to identify new potential walking bus routes and make walking to school safer.

The Town is seeking a federal infrastructure grant from the Massachusetts Safe Routes to School program. According to Hein, the money received through this grant would be used for improving the walkability of crosswalks and intersections, such as installing a pedestrian crosswalk beacon on Cross St., and painting a walking school bus route line on the Woodland St. sidewalks.

Pedestrian crosswalk beacons, like this one at Blair Square, are part of the infrastructure improvements that will be funded by the Safe Routes to School grant.

Hein said the application for the grant opens in December and the awards will be announced in the spring. In all, she estimated that the entire project funded by the grant will take two to three years to complete. This past year, the State awarded a total of $15 million to 14 different towns to improve walkability to their schools.

There is also the potential to add new routes to the walking school bus. Hein said that Regency Dr. and Washington St. via Elm St. are possible additional routes that could be established. However, adding new routes depends on interest in the program and the number of volunteers available.

“The biggest constraint to growing this program is adult volunteers,” said Hein. “The more parent volunteers, the more ability we have to expand the routes, to add routes, and to branch into the Placentino School.”

Both current walking school bus routes are for Miller Elementary School students only.

These new routes would be in addition to the existing routes starting at the Baptist Church and Cross St, both of which are for Miller School students. The Cross St. route started at Lil’ Folk Farm last year, but Hein said that the starting point is being moved to better avoid the traffic lights on Highland St. and to no longer intrude on a private business.

Hein said that the goal of the walking school bus is to encourage more families to allow their kids to walk to school.

“What you want to do by having the structured walking school bus is to model for the kids that they can do this on their own,” she said. “You don’t need a parent volunteer. A parent can make the choice for their child and say, ‘I’m going to put you on this designated route and let you go.’ The structure that comes with bus driver and the designated day and start time is really just to facilitate families making that decision.”

The Baptist Church on High St. is the starting point for one of the walking school bus routes.

Hein said that the PTO plans to promote the walking school bus via social media and during back to school nights in the hopes of increasing the number of families interested in the program and the number of volunteers.

This year’s walking school bus will not start at the same time as the new school year. Instead, it will begin to run in mid-September, in order to give enough time for kids and volunteers to sign up.

 

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Comments (1)

FWIW, it would be great to have sidewalks extend down Norfolk Street to either Patoma or Stoddard Park from Central St. It would be great for downtown folks to walk, bike or scooter to go for a swim or drop off kids at summer camp. Plus it would another walking bus route.

- Joe Jankovsky | 8/27/19 10:09 PM

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