Woodbridge Sentinel

Community Members Learn Safer Ways to Get to School

June 3, 2009

Woodbridge Sentinel

Walkability assessment illustrates need for sidewalks and stop signs

In bright lime-green T-shirts, groups of parents, students and teachers of the 16 elementary schools in Woodbridge Township and residents in the surrounding areas volunteered their time over the weekend to be part of making the routes to their individual schools safer.

Top and above: Teacher Beth Heagen, from Woodbine Avenue Elementary School No. 23 in Avenel, leads Bhavika Shah and her children Hetri, 8, a third-grader, and Ishika, 6, a firstgrader, as they travel through the streets that they and other students walk each day to get to school, looking for unsafe conditions as well as positive ones.

Dr. Wansoo Im, president of Vertices LLC, a GIS consulting firm, and a professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, led the group of a dozen or so people at Woodbine Avenue Elementary School No. 23 in Avenel to kick off the Discovering Safe Routes to School event, which was a walkability assessment, on May 30.

Each person was given a pedometer and took a map of the route, a survey and a digital camera to take photographs of what each one felt needed improvement, such as implementation of sidewalks, dangerous street crossings and overgrown shrubbery, and also what the participants felt worked well in the area.

“This event is an outgrowth of the walk we took with former Olympic racewalker [Mark Fenton] last year,” said Mayor John E. McCormac. “Our job as public officials is to keep the kids safe. What is safe to us might not be what is safe to an 8-year-old kid. The kids walk these routes every day.”

Fenton visited the township over a two day period in June 2008 to provide tips on how to make the township a more bike- and walk-friendly place to live and visit. His visit included a four-mile walk around bustling Route 27 and the Metro Park Train Station in Iselin.

The event was a collaboration between the township Mayor’s Wellness Campaign, the YMCA’s Pioneering Healthier Communities team, Vertices LLC, and the active citizens, students, parents and teachers of the 16 elementary schools.

The mayor was joined by Councilman Gregg Ficarra and Kim Affeldt, Woodbridge YMCA’s wellness director, Linda Mazzella, Raritan Bay Medical Center’s outreach manager, Township Chief of Staff Caroline Ehrlich, and Michael Esolda, township information systems director, and his staff.

Top right: Dr. Wansoo Im, president of Vertices LLC, a GIS consulting firm, and a professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, instructs the crowd on how to document findings while traveling through the streets as part of the “Woodbridge Walkability” assessment event held at the 16 elementary schools on May 30.

“It’s one thing to talk about having safe routes for walking, but with our designation as being one of the healthiest towns to live in, it puts that much pressure on us … this [event] is just the beginning,” said Ficarra.

The councilman added that the whole event was an eye-opener.

“The event made me look at these streets that I grew up on in a different light,” he said.

After an hour of data collection by each group at the 16 elementary schools, the data was entered onto the Web site www.biken walk.com/woodbridge inside the computer lab of Berkeley College on Rahway Avenue. The 16 team coordinators, who included college alumni from Im’s classes, helped the Berkeley College students enter the data.

The mayor said that after the data is entered, his administration will look at the worst areas.

“We will address the most dangerous areas first. If there is a spot that so blatantly needs sidewalks, we will alert and work with property owners to putting them in,” said McCormac. “Some suggestions will require more capital, long-term solutions like sidewalks, but with easier suggestions such as overgrown shrubbery or crossing guards being in the wrong spot, we can address those issues right away.”

Ehrlich added that money for the implementation of sidewalks is allocated into the current budget.

Avenel residents Elaine Kurzeja and Fadwa Field along with their sons Joseph T. Kurzeja and Mark Field, both 6-year-olds in first grade at Woodbine Elementary, walked a route behind their school — the intersections of Butler Avenue, Cozy Corner, Woodruff Avenue and Prospect Avenue.

Along the route, Joseph and Mark noted garbage, the tall grass, overgrown shrubbery, a Pathmark shopping cart, and motor vehicles that didn’t slow down as they were walking on the side of the road.

“There are no sidewalks and stop signs. We could get killed; it’s dangerous,” Joseph said when asked what he thought about the route.

Kurzeja said her son takes the bus to school but would like to walk to school.

Elaine Kurzeja and Fadwa Field said they participated in the walkability assessment due to a letter that they received from the school.

“The letter said my child Mark was selected, so anything my child is selected, I come,” Field said with a laugh.

Kurzeja said that Joseph has been involved in many volunteer events with the Cub Scouts and enjoys science and loves to walk.

“This is a way we can be active in the neighborhood,” she said. “Also, it is good exercise, and I always wanted a pedometer.”

Kim Affeldt, who was at the Woodbine Elementary School, said a couple stopped and asked what they were doing and ended up participating with the groups.

Kelly O’Brien was the team coordinator for Lafayette Estates Elementary School No. 25 in Fords.

“We had two teachers participate as well as many students … we even ran out of Tshirts to give out; everyone was so into it,” she said.

Abby Lindemann, who was the team coordinator at Robert Mascenik Elementary School No. 26, said residents even came out of their homes to share their thoughts.

Caroline Ehrlich said the township in the future looks to conduct walkability and bikeability assessments on the township parks and the downtowns.

For more information on the project and future events, visit www.bikenwalk.com/woodbridge.

Developed by VERTICES