Communities support kids walking to school, but often don't provide sidewalks

Feb. 10, 2013
Promoting kids walking, biking to school
Promoting kids walking, biking to school: Melinda Morella of Live54218, a nonprofit advocacy group that promotes healthy lifestyles in Brown County, discusses the importance of encouraging kids to walk and bike to school.
Students are dropped off in the traffic circle at Webster Elementary School in Allouez. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media
Glenn Schroeder walks his children, from left, Zane, Aiden, and Olivia, around the traffic circle at Webster Elementary School in Allouez. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media

Bike Month

May is Bike Month and local health advocacy group Live54218 will be working with schools and community safety partners to coordinate efforts to highlight biking to school. May 8 is national Bike to School Day.

On the Books

Visit to read Green Bay’s sidewalk ordinance. Click on Chapter 14, and look for Chapter 14-700 on the left. Click on that, and look for Section Two, “Blocks, pedestrian ways and lots.”

Coming Monday

A look at the physical benefits of walking or biking to school.

Katie Hess, her daughter Grace, and dog, Ella, walk to Webster Elementary School in Allouez. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media
Students are dropped off in a traffic circle at Webster Elementary School in Allouez. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media


If you want kids to walk to school, they should have a safe way to get there, and many Green Bay-area parents and residents don’t think they do.

Each municipality has its own rules for sidewalk development and availability in Brown County.

De Pere, for example, requires new developments to include sidewalks, and its planning director estimates nearly 90 percent of residential streets in the city have sidewalks. Allouez, on the other hand, requires sidewalks only in new developments if they are busy enough for officials to justify the cost. In the village, maps show sidewalks mostly on busier streets, leaving major gaps for walks to school.

The village of Ashwaubenon has no rules about sidewalks and has very few, located mostly along busy streets, such as Oneida and Cormier streets. Sidewalks were placed years ago in front of schools, but children walking to school will almost definitely walk in the street for part — if not most — of the way. Municipal leaders admit that unless a busier street is under reconstruction, it’s difficult to place sidewalks in an already-developed area.

Some local school and health officials say one of the reasons students don’t walk to school is because families don’t feel safe allowing kids to walk in the street.

Video: Live54218 promotes kids walking, biking to school.

Nationally, the number of students who walk to elementary school has dropped from 48 percent in 1969 to 13 percent in 2009, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School, a North Carolina-based group that works to help states and communities allow and encourage kids to safely walk and bike to school.

Often, residents may argue against sidewalks because they don’t want to pay for them or maintain them in front of their homes. Sidewalks cost roughly $20 a foot, meaning someone with an 80-foot lot could expect to pay about $1,600 to install walks, according to Ken Pabich, director of planning and economic development for the city of De Pere.

The city of Green Bay had a comprehensive sidewalk installation policy at one time, and older neighborhoods in the heart of the city have sidewalks, while newer areas, which often attract young families with school-aged children, may not.

The city, however, adopted an ordinance in 2008-09 requiring sidewalk installation in new developments, and areas within two blocks of a school. New streets near schools would have to be built with sidewalks on both sides, and existing streets on at least one side — under the two blocks near a school requirement, according to Public Works Director Steve Grenier. It also requires sidewalks on busier main streets.

Before 2008, the city had a policy requiring sidewalks on main streets, and installation at others if areas were deemed unsafe. Property owners pick up those costs.

Other areas have policies similar to Allouez, targeting busier areas for sidewalks.

Ashwaubenon leaders discuss sidewalks when streets are redeveloped, said Doug Martin, director of engineering services for the village. It considers other areas if residents ask.

“People don’t particularly want it,” he said. “If they do, we will take a look at it.”

A little help

The federally funded program called Safe Routes to School aims to encourage municipalities to build more sidewalks. It requires communities to complete sidewalk inventories and create specific plans about sidewalk placement that would encourage students to walk or bike to obtain one of its grants.

The Howard-Suamico School District, working with the villages of Howard and Suamico, has received two Safe Routes to School grants worth more than $225,000 — in 2008 and 2010 — to help install sidewalks near schools in the past several years.

“We wanted to look at any changes we could do to make walking in those areas more safe,” said Betty Zimdars, assistant superintendent of business and information services for the district. She was part of a Safe Routes to School committee. “There’s really a benefit to creating an environment for kids to walk to school.”

The village of Howard currently requires sidewalk installation on busier streets and “collector” streets, which funnel traffic from residential streets to main streets. The village does not require property owners to pay for new sidewalks if it puts them in as street upgrades. However, developers are required to pay for the installation of sidewalks in new subdivisions.

“We’ve been focusing on sidewalks a lot in the last five or 10 years,” Said Geoffrey Farr, public works director for Howard. “It is something the residents enjoy having.”

A 2010 grant will be used, in part, for new sidewalks near Bay View Middle School and Bay Port High School. .

The village of Allouez had hoped to receive a federal grant through the Safe Routes to School that would have paid for $300,000 in new sidewalks, but the application recently was denied.

“We’ll go back the drawing board and decide what we want to do,” village Administrator Tracy Fluke said. “I think maybe we put too much in it. Maybe we would scale down.”

The village currently requires sidewalks for new construction if officials feel there is enough pedestrian or bicycle traffic to warrant it. However, most of the village already is developed and many residential streets do not have sidewalks. Officials were hoping the grant would cover the costs of sidewalks in developed areas.

“We feel strongly, we feel it’s important for community members and school children to be able to walk or ride their bikes,” Fluke said. “We’ll have to take a step back and think about it.”

Webster Elementary School Principal Nancy Schultz was disappointed the grant fell through.

“There’s just so much compelling research that physical exercise before learning really improves learning,” she said. “When they get exercise, they do better in school.”

A safe route?

Rebecca Meert, health educator for the Brown County Health Department, said students can walk to school as safely as they did 20 or 30 years ago. Parents may be more fearful, but statistically, kids are no more likely to be hit by cars or abducted, she said.

“We do a lot of education about the importance of walking and biking to school,” Meert said. “Our goal with kids is, ‘How do we get them to walk and bike to school?’ ”

“My kids are in their 20s now, and when they were young, they walked to school. You will hear that parents are lot busier now. Parents take kids to day care and day care buses students to school.

“But really, it’s OK to let them walk to school. It’s better for them. We’ve got an epidemic of kids who are overweight, that’s something to be concerned about.”

Families feel more comfortable allowing kids to walk to school when there are sidewalks, Meert said, but once areas are built without sidewalks, it’s a fight to put them in.

“In De Pere, you build a house, you put one in, and everyone likes it,” she said. “But in other areas, if you want to put one in, people say ‘I don’t want to pay for it. I don’t want to shovel it.’ ”

The Green Bay School District installed a sidewalk on the south side of Mason Street near Edison Middle School so the city could put in crosswalks. The city couldn’t put in crosswalks without a sidewalk.

“This was installed to eliminate a hazard area and allow students to safely walk to school,” said Al Behnke, director of facilities operations. “Our district absolutely supports sidewalks. Having separate pedestrian sidewalks and vehicle traffic road areas minimizes the potential for the two to conflict.”

Like Green Bay, school systems support the idea of sidewalks but, Meert said, they have no taxing authority to require them.

Cole Runge of the Brown County Planning Department said the county encourages any municipality building or rebuilding a street to install sidewalks.

Two years ago, De Pere adopted a strategy that says whenever it is building streets, planners must consider ways to to accommodate bikers and pedestrians as well as cars.

That can mean adding items such as curb bump outs, which stretch into streets and slow traffic, he said, or cutouts on sidewalks at street corners to make for easier access by the curb, he said. It also considers bike lanes. Residents haven’t complained, he said.

“If it’s there, people will use sidewalk,” he said. “If they have to walk in the street, people might use it, or they might choose not to walk. But sidewalks they will use.” or follow her on Twitter @PGPattiZarling

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

Retrieving results.
Watching practice is fine.(Your vote)
579 votes
I'd rather watch a scrimmage.(Your vote)
862 votes
I don't want to pay to watch practice.(Your vote)
1025 votes
It doesn't matter to me.(Your vote)
1279 votes

Catch up on the latest in our pregame show every game day.

Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports


Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports