Pedestrian fatalities accounted for 14% of Pennsylvania's traffic fatalities between 2016 and 2020. As the state began to participate in the national highway safety movement, Toward Zero Deaths, several focus areas were identified by Pennsylvania’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan, including active transportation. In 2022, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) was awarded funds from the National Road Safety Foundation (NRSF) and GHSA to pilot a Safer Walking Routes to School initiative at Iroquois Elementary School (IES) with the United Way of Erie County (UW Erie).
The main activity was using GIS software to map the dangers children face as they walk, bike or scoot to school. The lead volunteers were AmeriCorps SMILES members (a local non-profit organization that provides youth with educational opportunities). In just four weeks, teen volunteers and other partners mapped 2.3 square miles, detailing hazards such as cracked sidewalks, intersections with no crosswalks and railroad crossings.
This mapping information was used to identify locations for safety signage. Each signs’ placement was decided based on the safest walking routes to schools in Lawrence Park. Since many students take the bus to school, the safest walking routes to two main bus stops in Wesleywille and Lake Cliff were also mapped for signage.
Unfortunately, production issues delayed the sign installations, which is now expected to be completed by April 2023. The program will close out with a post-installation survey and analysis to identify its effectiveness. The remainder of the peer-to-peer outreach will take place before and after the safe route signs are installed. Teens will post “teasers” about the signs in late January/early February on Facebook and Thrillshare (an app the school uses to manage their communication with students, parents and staff) to encourage their peers to watch for the signs as they start showing up in the neighborhoods.
Although grant project results are pending, UW Erie achieved several successes from this pilot initiative beyond the safety signs, including a closer relationship with the county and a better understanding of GIS mapping. The Town Hall event bolstered project interest and contributed to necessary community conversations on safe walking routes. This initiative will improve safety as students in the Iroquois School district navigate hazards along their walking routes to school or their bus stop.