This is how you do it: education, reinforcement and town, police support for healthy, safe walk/bike initiative

Montclair is model for state, as all 10 lower and middle schools - plus township - receive highest Safe Route to Schools Medals

Diane Lilli

Every one of the ten elementary and middle schools in Montclair,along with Montclair Township, has been awarded the New Jersey Department of Transportation's Safe Routes to School Gold Medal award, the highest honor in this program in the state.

Gathered together to award the schools and township at Mt. Hebron School yesterday were  Elise Bremer Nei, the New Jersey  Department of Transportation Safe Routes to School Coordinator; Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson, Montclair 4th Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville; Montclair Police Chief David Sabagh; Laura Torchio for Partners for Health; Gray Russell, Montclair Environmental Coordinator, numerous principles, teachers, police captains and officers and many members of the press.

Montclair was the first township plus school district to step up as a community effort and team to join the Safe Routes to School program in 2006. Educators, students, drivers, and the township all pitched in to create a practical, strong program and encourage families to walk or bike to school.

From the township council, then under Mayor Jerry Fried, to the police department, to the crossing guards to each school’s principals, this town wide effort steamrolled to become a popular and beloved part of going to school in Montclair.

Workshops, focus groups, class-room events and lessons and more were offered in every school to promote safe walking and biking.

At the event, Elise Bremer Nei, Safe Routes to School Coordinator of New Jersey, said she has been to events in Montclair “so many times” and when they kicked off the program in 2006 Montclair “kicked off the pilot program and they have just gone like gangbusters”. Turns out Montclair became the leader in the state of New Jersey for safe, walking and bike routes for children going to school every day, and also the leader in education and support for a healthier lifestyle for all - which includes more walking and biking.

In a busy township and county filled with 800,000 people - all trying to get somewhere fast - this is no small accomplishment.

Don't think this is one organization that brought this success to fruition. Instead, the mighty force behind this renowned pedestrian safety effort is firmly supported by many. In Montclair, there is strong and far reaching support for this health and safety initiative, including a dedicated Safe Routes to school coordinator and numerous schools, families, and organizations in the township working with the police department and the municipality.

More crosswalks; well trained and vibrant crossing guards; a police chief and department that supports the safety initiatives with police readily on hand to assist the efforts; a mayor and council, for two back-to-back terms, also supporting the safety initiative; organized parents, principals, teachers, and non-profits like Partners for Health and Bike and Walk Montclair - all work together in a unified team effort.

“We have bronze, silver, and gold awards and guess who is gold?” asked Bremer Nei. “In Montclair, every single school won the gold award. Not only do you do walk and bike to school events, bike rodeos, and pedestrian safety assemblies but you make it part of your culture, doing things year-round and showing how much you support your children.”

The award were handed out to each school, to great applause.

Pausing for a moment, she joked, “We have to come up with a higher award, maybe Platinum?”

Council woman Baskerville, who walks with the Charles H. Bullock school for Safe Routes to Schools, also said she was happy to be part of the initiative, and thanked previous Mayor Jerry Fried for his work on this program as well as current Mayor Jackson, who is very supportive.

In the end, the school children who came out to join the celebration proved how engrained this Safe Routes to School is for them. Three young girls, speaking beforehand, said they were proud to be part of history.

"We always walk to school," one young student said, smiling. "It's just normal; it's just what we do in Montclair."

About the Recognition Program from Safe Routes to School:

New Jersey Safe Routes to School launches a new Recognition Program.

Trenton, NJ,  June 30, 2012 -- New Jersey Department of Transportation's (NJDOT) Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program, which offers many resources for schools, municipalities and families across the State to enable and encourage students to walk and bicycle to and from school, is excited to announce a new Recognition Program.  The main goals of the SRTS program are to encourage more students to walk and bike to school where it is safe and to improve the areas where it is not safe.  Communities that participate with the SRTS Recognition Program benefit from less traffic congestion, better air quality and fewer traffic conflicts near schools, and most importantly, children will become healthier and more active.

New Jersey's statewide Safe Routes to School program was developed by the NJDOT's Office of Bicycle and Pedestrian program along with a statewide Technical Advisory Committee in 2002, several years before the US Congress enacted the National Safe Routes to School program in 2005.  The program was established in response to the nation's growing concerns about the health and safety of school-age children.  New Jersey officially kicked off its involvement with the federal SRTS program in 2006.  New Jersey Safe Routes to School assists public officials, transportation and health professionals, as well as the general public in creating a safer and more accessible walking and bicycling environment through primary research, education and dissemination of information about best practices in policy and design.

[SRTS National Partnership logo]


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