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A photo from the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition of a 'Walking School Bus.' The three elementary schools will be holding a walk-to-school event on Wednesday

North Adams Elementary Pupils Set for Walk to School

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Mass in Motion coordinator Amanda Chilson, right, poses with Safe Routes Statewide Coordinator Erin Reed and MassDOT Chief Strategy Officer Scott Bosworth at a State House event in June recognizing the efforts of Chilson and others.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city's elementary school pupils are being encouraged to walk to school on Wednesday for International Walk to School Day.

Routes have been laid out for the three schools and parents are encouraged to join the "Walking School Bus" that will feature school and city officials, teachers, local "celebrities," and police officers.

"North Adams is a Safe Routes to School city, which is a federally funded initiative of MassDOT," Amanda Chilson, local coordinator for the state's Mass in Motion program, told the City Council recently, adding, "It's to increase biking and walking ... and it fosters mutual partnerships for elementary and middle school students."

The event's been successful in the past in encouraging children and parents to skip the bus and learn safe ways to get to school, Chilson said.

"We had over 100 including students, volunteers, local celebrities, if you will, and the food staff was kind enough to provide coffee for all the volunteers so we were able to sit with students in the cafeteria," she said of last year's walk at one of the schools. "These partners are what help to really to build this program and support within our school system."

The city was one of 12 communities in the state recognized for its Safe Routes to School program on June 29, when Chilson went to Boston to accept the award as Regional Safe Routes to School Superhero of the Year.

She has also been instrumental in moving forward the city's Complete Streets program, an initiative for developing pedestrian and bike ways in conjunction with motorways whenever possible.

"Amanda has been a champion of both initiatives and without her drive and passion, neither of these things would be happening in the city," Mayor Richard Alcombright wrote in his letter to the council.

"Amanda has been at the forefront of the 'Complete Streets' initiative working with city administration to be certain we have been trained, policy is written, a committee assigned and finally that things relevant to the initiative begin."

MassDOT instituted Safe Routes in 2000, one of only two in the nation at the time. Since then, more than 500 schools have partnered in the initiative. Nearly half of all children walked to school in 1969, according to the state, but only about 13 percent by 2009. At the same time, childhood obesity has increased.

Chilson said the state Department of Transportation provides technical assistance, such as different ways to promote walking, and education, and collaborate with local law enforcement.

"They really encourage the use of local law enforcement or safety officers to really partake in this Safe Routes to School," she said. "They also help with audits on how students are getting back and forth to school and in applying for partnerships."
Chilson said she and her partners are working with all three schools to orchestrate Wednesday's walk, including the YMCA and Police Department.

"The benefits around that are huge. It gets children outside before the school day starts and really prepares them to learn for the school day," she said. "The overall goal is creating healthy and safe behaviors among our students. ... it helps our students create healthy lifetime habits knowing that walking is a safe way of transportation, increasing our children's independence, helping students arrive on time."

Learning pedestrian and bicycle safety becomes a cyclical effort and promotes families to walk and bike together outside of school. Chilson said she hopes to develop monthly walk-to-school events.

The programs really go hand in hand. Complete Streets is critical to Safe Routes' success by providing safe and accessible options. The program was included in the state's 2104 transportation bond bill.

"Complete Streets have become a little bit of a buzzword and it's different no matter where you live, so us being rural is very different from the Boston Complete Street program, or Worcester or Springfield," Chilson said. "So I think it really applies to where we live and what makes sense. ... this can't happen alone."

Among the programs and agencies involved in Complete Streets are Mass in Motion, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Age-Friendly Berkshires. The goal is to share roads where possible, such as Route 2 between Williamstown and the Sacco Bridge.

"We're only looking to grow ... They set us up for tier two and that's the opportunity to work with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission to provide us technical assistance to put together a plan of possible projects that could use and could be a part of our Complete streets," Chilson said.

That could include audits and analysis of bike routes to understand where infrastructure can be modified to accommodate non-motorized traffic. Some programs already in process are the bike sharing at Massachusetts Museum of Modern Art, bike racks in place downtown and the NAMA Bike Collective. Also the painted crosswalks, for visibility, and bus transit shelters.

Tier 3 would be to apply for a grant, based on Tier 2 results.

"The most important piece of this, along with the financial incentives, is creating a safe walkable and bikable community in which more people are biking and walking to the places where they live, work and play," said Chilson. "And really having pride in that."

Tags: childrens health,   complete streets,   health & wellness,   Mass in Motion,   MassDOT,   safe routes to school,   walking,   

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