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At Westgate School, a path to safer walking

Thornton gets $313,000 state grant to improve sidewalks, safety

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Neighbors and students at Thornton’s Westgate Community School will get new sidewalks, safer pedestrian crossings and a lower school-zone speed limit thanks to money from the state’s Safe Routes to School grant program.

Thornton Traffic Engineer Darrell Alston said the city should start getting down to design details in January. Plans call for doing the work over the summer in 2019, with the new sidewalks and bikeways debuting at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year.

“There are no sidewalks there. There is a place reserved for sidewalks, but it’s filled with fine material that has a tendency to hold water,” Alston said. “So when the kids walk or ride their bikes there, they’re basically walking through mud. And some of the kids don’t like that, so they walk in the street — and that’s what we’re trying to discourage.”

Colorado’s Transportation Commission approved $2.49 million to fund 15 Safe Routes to School projects around Colorado. Infrastructure and education and encouragement projects are included. The program is federally funded and managed by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“Communities across Colorado are continuing to make a commitment to support safe routes to school for their school children,” said state Program Manager Leslie Feuerborn. “For the 12th straight year, the Colorado Department of Transportation has provided the project grants. There continues to be strong interest in getting more students walking and biking to and from school, teaching children pedestrian and bicycling safety, encouraging healthy living and improving the built environment to support active transportation.”

Thornton’s share of that will be an 80 percent matching grant of roughly $313,000. The city has to agree to fund the remaining 20 percent of the total $391,972 project costs.

Alston said the plans call for building sidewalks along 126th Avenue east of Emerson Street and along Lafayette Street between 126th and Eastlake avenues.

Alston said the city will build a new pedestrian crossing at the 126th and Lafayette Street intersection as well as a trail connecting the intersection to the Farmers Highline Canal.

The city will also reduce the speed limit around the school from 45 miles per hour to 25 during school, putting up flashing lights around the area.

“Overall, it’s a good project,” Alston said. “We’re getting to install some pedestrian facilities where they were never built adequately.”

As the final piece of the project, the school will track student behavior to see whether students choose to walk or ride their bikes more.

“That’s part of the grant, to track and see if there is a change in behavior,” Alston said. “They’ll host some events while we are doing the work and they’ll do some educational outreach to the students.”

Other 2018 grant recipients include Boulder County Transportation, the cities of Edgewater, Florence and Gunnison, the Lewis-Palmer School District and Estes Park. Those include sidewalks installations, intersection crossings improvements and connector trail construction.

The grants will also pay for education programs in Fort Collins, Gunnison and La Veta. Those involve teaching elementary and middle school students about bicycle and pedestrian safety and skills training.

All have the goal to increase the number of students walking and biking safely to and from school, Feuerborn said.

“As we’ve completed the 12th year of the program we are very pleased with the progress we’ve made,” she said. “Along with enhancing safety, SRTS is a great way to introduce active transportation to children.”

Alton said the streets around the Westgate school were laid out and built before most of the homes and the school were built.

“They just assumed that someone would come along and build them eventually,” Alton said. “Now is that time.”

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