The city of Yakima will make a push to map and identify safe routes to school for kids by the end of the year.
The City Council on Tuesday directed staff to map routes and identify main walking routes, following up on a strategic council priority. Councilwoman Dulce Gutierrez spelled out a plan that called for the city to work with the Yakima School District and West Valley School District.
A larger effort would involve identifying missing sidewalks, traffic issues, bad lighting, gang activity and other safety issues.
“This is really us working with the school districts and community. The community will have to help us identify some of these issues,” she said.
The estimate to install missing sidewalks for all roads within a half-mile radius of all elementary schools in the city is $81 million, an amount council members have said would be tough to fund. Gutierrez suggested working with the school districts to identify one street east to west and one street north to south, and to use data on how students get to school to set priorities.
By doing that, the city would have a more accurate cost estimate and could better allocate resources, she said.
“You are not going to be able to put sidewalks on every single street. It’s not attainable, it’s not practical and we don’t have the resources for that,” she said. “This helps us prioritize specific routes to make sure there are safe routes to every elementary school, even if it is a minimum of one direction.”
The city can use several funding sources to address problems, including the city’s transportation budget, Transportation Benefit Districts, traffic-calming devices, the Complete Streets funding program, Yakima Transit sidewalk projects, and the state’s Safe Routes to Schools grant program, which has been more competitive lately.
Councilwoman Carmen Mendez said middle schools should be on the list along with elementary schools.
The vote was 5-1, with Mayor Kathy Coffey voting no and Councilwoman Holly Cousens absent. Coffey said she was concerned the motion didn’t provide enough clarity on how the school district was involved, and part of the issue should be a school district responsibility.
“Lack of sidewalks would of course be our issue, but lighting, gang activity and other safety issues have to be in partnership with the school district and I think it needs to be spelled out and enforced in that regard,” she said.
Interim Assistant City Manager Scott Schafer said city staff members have met with Yakima School District Superintendent Trevor Greene, and plan to meet with each building principal.