Return to Cape Cod Schools Shows Potential for Increased Walking and Bicycling Options
Social distancing requirements in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic may provide an opportunity for increased walking and bicycling to school. This means that now more than ever, it’s important to establish safe routes to school. MassDOT has released some guidance for schools return to in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Program works to increase safe biking and walking among elementary and middle school students by using a collaborative, community-focused approach that bridges the gap between health and transportation. Schools can participate in the SRTS program to establish safe walking and bicycling options for students.
Several schools on Cape Cod currently participate in the SRTS program, including the Marguerite E. Small Elementary School (ME Small) in Yarmouth and Harwich Elementary School.
ME Small has been a SRTS partner since 2011, and was recognized at this year’s annual SRTS Awards as a 2020 Exemplary Program Honorable Mention.
As one of two elementary schools in the Town of Yarmouth, ME Small serves just under 300 pre-Kindergarten to Grade 3 students.
ME Small faces what many would consider to be significant challenges. With one of the oldest school buildings on the Cape, nearly 75 percent of its school population deemed high needs, 30 percent of students are not native English speakers, and there are no sidewalks along Higgins Crowell Road, where the school is located. Despite all of this, ME Small has one of the most successful and impactful bike safety programs in Massachusetts. The highlight of their SRTS program is the annual Bike Rodeo held in May. A collaboration with local agencies like Yarmouth Police and Fire, Yarmouth Health Department, and the local bicycle shop, the annual event is attended by nearly 100 students and their families. Bicycles are made available to students that do not have one, helmets are provided by the Health Department, and the local bicycle shop offers free bike tune-ups.
One of the benefits of participation in the SRTS program is access to infrastructure grants to improve the sidewalk and bicycling network in the vicinity of the school. Harwich Elementary School recently won a $1 million federal infrastructure grant to support their efforts to construct an improved sidewalk network on South Street and Sisson Street to connect the school and the Brooks Free Library on Main Street. The project, which is currently under design, is expected to be ready for construction by 2025.