22 Aug 2014
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Township Residents: We Need More Sidewalks

Police chief to help Safe Routes to School Committee prioritize sidewalk areas.

Before the Chatham Township Committee agrees to move forward with a grant application through Safe Routes to School, they asked Chief John Paton to help prioritize streets that need sidewalks most.

After Committee Member Kathy Abbott gave the committee's (SRTSC) goals, she asked the township committee to help.

It "should be a real win-win situation," Abbott said.

The Safe Routes to School grant could potentially fund sidewalks within 2 miles of schools, with the municipality bearing soft costs, such as engineering analyses for the grant application.

With the township's new community policing endeavor, Mayor Nicole Hagner said police could help the committee prioritize which streets need sidewalks the most.

"Once we apply [to put sidewalks on a given block], we can't just shift it somewhere else," Hagner said.

Engineer John Ruschke said the overall project cost for the three areas which the SRTSC wished to install sidewalks on first—Lafayette Avenue, Longwood Avenue and Spring Street—would be about $200,000. Since the township and borough must apply for grants together, Abbott said both should apply for $200,000 each, and would hopefully receive a cumulative total of $300,000.

Soft costs, he said, would be "about 15 to 20 percent" of the project costs and would not be covered by the grant. The application itself, Ruschke said, would be "a few hours" of work, "not a lot of effort."

Members of the SRTSC and residents of the Chathams spoke at the meeting. Sarah Fechner, a member of the committee, said she collected accident data over two years, ending just before Thanksgiving 2011.

In 408 school days, within .75 miles of the schools, "there were 61 [car] accidents. And that's just within school commute time, and that's just within that radius, and that's just within two years," Fechner said. "That's 15 percent of the time when our students are actively commuting to school, there's an accident within that radius."

Paton agreed with her statistics.

Fechner also said "property values are increased by safe walkability of a community. That is where people want to live."

Several parents said though they live within walking distance of certain schools, the lack of sidewalks and unsafe speeds by drivers meant their children were unable to walk or bike to school.

Janice Coviello, a Chatham Patch contributor, presented a list of signatures from residents favoring additional sidewalks. She said there were over 100 signatures.

"The township committee is supportive of submitting the grant," Hagner said, but "I think what we need to have is a better prioritization of what we'd be requesting."

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