East Lansing will soon see something that it hasn’t in nearly a year: young students making their way to school. ELPS elementary students whose families have opted for them to learn in person will return on Monday, Mar. 1, and the East Lansing Safe Routes to School program is concerned for their safety.
East Lansing Safe Routes to School is a local chapter of a federal program that encourages non-motorized transportation – primarily walking and biking – to school and seeks to make sure those routes are safe.
Community Coordinator Aislinn Callahan-Brandt told ELi that the current problem is twofold. Drivers aren’t used to seeing kids, and kids aren’t used to walking or biking to school. The combination could spell disaster.
What can be done? Callahan-Brandt asks drivers to observe the speed limit, reminding drivers that the speed limit “is not a suggestion.” In school zones, the speed limit is lowered to keep kids safe.
Drivers should also keep in mind that, in East Lansing, school zone speed limits are often in effect during drop-off and dismissal, but those times are now different than usual. Drop-off for elementary students is now between 8:45 a.m. and 9 a.m. Dismissal is at 2 p.m. Drivers should be extra cautious around those times.
Drivers should also keep an eye out for pedestrians and bicyclists and avoid distractions, and Callahan-Brandt said that drivers should exercise caution when turning, to make sure there is no one in the crosswalk.
Safe Routes to School is anticipating that more parents might drive their children to school instead of relying on buses, due to the pandemic. Callahan-Brandt said she is working with individual buildings to identify possible drop-off points near the school to avoid traffic back-ups. Drivers should be careful around schools, particularly as new drop-off points pop up.
Parents should remind their children “to see and be seen.” Kids should obey traffic signals, watch out for cars, and limit crossing to crosswalks and marked intersections. In the dark mornings, children should also wear something reflective that can catch the eye of a motorist.
Local homeowners also have a role to play by making sure the sidewalks in front of their homes are passable, something particularly important during the winter when snow accumulates. Safe Routes to School advocates for all students, including those with various needs, to be able to travel to school without a car.