In a growing community like Bozeman, how to get kids to and from school is a major concern. Especially if those students walk or bike.
School and city leaders at Monforton School performed what’s called a walk audit to send a message to the community.
“A walk audit is is where we get a group of people together and then we kind of pick an area to focus on, and we go out and look at it from a lot of different aspects,” explained Matthew Madsen of the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University. “We look at it from the infrastructure piece, what do the sidewalks look like, where are the cracks, are there weeds growing in there, does it feel like a safe space—we look at it from the safety piece as well.”
Last spring students like Orion Kimball took part in the walk audit as well.
“It is important so that students can travel to and from school safely,” he said. “It is scary to see a driver not paying attention. It makes me feel very nervous because cars can be very dangerous to people.”
The audit is a statement and also a study. Andrew Rowse is the president of Monforton Moves.
“This one is focused on community leaders and adults and parents," said Rowse. “Today we are bringing the parents out and having them walk the trails, the paths, and transportation routes so that we can evaluate the safety and problem areas with moving around.”
Rowse says he bikes to school with his kids, and they see daily how dangerous the trip can be.
“When we leave the goal is not necessarily to get to school—that’s the secondary goal. The goal is to survive Huffine,” he said.
They even had stickers printed with the phrase “I survived Huffine” to drive home the point to those taking part. Among them, Matthew Madsen with Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University.
“I did the walk audit with kids last year,” explained Madsen. “At the beginning of class, some of the kids were asking why we want to talk to them. I said, ‘because you’re actually the experts in this, you do it every day, so you see things very different than people who are driving in their cars.’”
His role is to help gather data based on the six ‘Es’ of the nationwide Safe Routes To School program: Encouragement, Education, Equity, Engineering, Engagement, and Evaluation.
From there they can help put wheels in motion for safety improvements like recently added yield signs at nearby crosswalks.
Madsen says so far they’ve learned there are areas where the infrastructure needs updating for safety and places with high traffic and higher speeds due to Bozeman’s ongoing growth spurt.
“Gallatin Valley in general, there’s a lot of growth going on here; there’s a lot of growth going on with those issues and there’s a lot of opportunity to reevaluate.”
Meantime, students say they hope every time you see one of the safe routes stickers you’ll remember to slow down.
Madsen says he will use his notes from the audit to put together a report to share with city leaders and Monforton parents with suggestions for improvements and updates.
It is a process they’ve used to gather data about why speed matters and how reducing speed in certain areas can make an impact.
Consider a pedestrian hit at 25 miles per hour has an 89 percent chance of survival, at 35 miles per hour a 68 percent chance, and at 45 miles per hour, the chance of survival drops to 35 percent.
Want to learn more? Here is the link to the National Partnership: https://www.saferoutespartnership.org/ [saferoutespartnership.org] They offer all sorts of resources and research around SRTS programming.