Safe Routes to School grants awarded

SARANAC LAKE – The state Department of Transportation has awarded $133,000 in federal grant money to improve pedestrian and bicycle access to Petrova Elementary and Saranac Lake Middle School.

Another $62,000 will go toward developing educational programs for parents and children in the Saranac Lake and Malone school districts on the benefits of walking and bicycling to school.

DOT awarded a total of $26.5 million in federal Safe Routes to School funding Monday for 64 projects across the state. Franklin County partnered with the Saranac Lake-based North Country Healthy Heart Network, the village of Saranac Lake and other agencies on the grant application last fall. Jamie Konkoski of the Healthy Heart Network wrote the grant.

“There’s been a lot of work put into this, so it’s a great reward for all the work we’ve been doing for several years now,” Konkoski said Monday. “It’s been a long time coming that we’ve been thinking about some of these funding opportunities and improving bike and pedestrian facilities in the village. The implementation of the (village’s) sidewalk capital improvement project is a testament to how dedicated to the village has been, and the creation of the Healthy Infrastructure Advisory Board, and their role in moving the (recently released draft Bicycle and Pedestrian Trail Master) plan forward. All of these things made for a very strong application.”

The $133,000 will be used to build a new sidewalk on Lake Street from the area of Mulflur Road to state Route 3, which Konkoski described as a gap in the bicycle and pedestrian route to the Petrova school. The county will be responsible for hiring a contractor to do the work. Konkoski said construction likely won’t take place until the spring of 2014 because it involves federal money and because of the planning and design process.

The $62,000 will be used at for “education and enrichment activities” for elementary and middle school students in Malone and Saranac Lake.

“We have a Safe Routes to School Team in each community,” Konkoski said. “Education activities will be tailored to each community. In Saranac Lake, the focus will be on the dos and don’ts of walking and biking, the safe way to ride your bike, how to cross the street – basic education. Then there will be some encouragement activities like contests, bike rodeos, giving away helmets. Once the improvements are made, it’s about trying to get more kids to walk and bike to school.”

Konkoski said she hopes the programs can start this spring.

Beyond the projects supported by these grants, Konkoski said more still needs to be done to make routes to school safer for local children. The biggest priority is replacing the pedestrian bridge across LaPan Highway, which was demolished last summer due to safety concerns. DOT plans to replace the bridge this year.

“Another area we’ve been talking about is the intersection of Main and Broadway, right in front of Berkeley Square,” Konkoski said. “It’s a large crossing distance, and it’s a deterrent for some kids to get across there and get to school.

“And I think we have a lot of work to do around the bikability of the community. It’s great for road bikers and people who want to ride with traffic, but for kids, I think there’s a lot that can be done in terms of increasing driver awareness and just, where do you ride?”

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or