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Billings moving forward with plan to improve safety on roads around schools

Safe routes
Posted at 5:39 PM, Mar 14, 2023

BILLINGS - Phase two has begun for the Safe Routes to School Plan, which will try and bring safer streets and sidewalks to Billings school areas.

The first part of the project focused on all 22 Billings elementary schools, while this newest portion of the plan shifts to the Billings middle schools, private schools, and schools located on the city's boundaries, such as Lockwood or Elysian.

The primary objective of the program is to ensure that kids have safe and easy access points on their school grounds. For project consultant Erin Claunch, it hits close to home.

“As a parent, you know, that’s the number one goal in life is to make sure your kids are safe,” Claunch said Tuesday morning.

Claunch has two daughters in the Billings Public School system. One is a sixth grader at Ben Steele Middle School, which is one of the schools involved in Phase 2. Claunch said his daughter's safety is important, but so is the safety of all kids in the various school systems.

“Having a daughter going to school, it’s important for me," Claunch said. "From a safety aspect for her particularly, but for all kids."

And that's why Claunch and the organizers of the Safe Routes program are asking for the public's help reviewing streets and sidewalks near schools. Claunch said it's important to have the opinions of those in the area, who are walking those paths every day.

“Getting the input from parents, from the faculty and the staff, they see it every day," Claunch said. "So, they’ve got a lot better feel of what’s happening at each one of these schools."

Walk audits will be held at the schools involved in phase 2, offering parents and students the opportunity to walk with consultants while making suggestions as to what areas are unsafe. Transportation Planner Elyse Monat said that while these walk audits were a part of phase 1, she'd like to see more commitment in the coming weeks.

"We can definitely look at the schools and suggest things that we think are important, but we’re also not out here every day walking the routes," Monat said. "That's why it's so important to get public input into some of these decisions."

The schedule for all walk audits can be found on the program's website, and Monat is encouraging people to participate in ones scheduled in their neighborhood.

“We’d love to have you come walk with us, point out things that you think are working well that maybe we could duplicate," Monat said. "Or point out areas that are a challenge that you think could be improved."

Improvements can be anything from crosswalks to bike lanes, or even reducing the speed limit in certain areas. The website also has an interactive map, so people can provide feedback with the simple click of a button.

Interactive map

“We’re trying to make every school access point more safe," Claunch said. "We want to see how we can improve the existing, and how we can look for new opportunities to improve."

The plan is for the project to be wrapped up this summer, with implementation next fall just in time for the new school year.

Related: Petition drafted for more safety measures near Poly Drive Elementary in Billings