Safe Routes to School Hopes to Add Islands, Safety Features to Burcham Drive

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Thursday, March 28, 2019, 7:43 am
Karessa Wheeler

Photo illustration of a proposed traffic island at Burcham  Drive and John R Street. Courtesy of East Lansing Safe Routes to School.

Burcham Drive may soon have several concrete islands to help school children cross the busy street safely.

East Lansing’s Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program will apply in June for a major grant to construct three traffic islands at the intersections of Burcham Drive and John R Street, Burcham Drive and Gunson Street, and Burcham Drive and Virginia Avenue. The proposal includes moving the existing crosswalks to safer areas, said committee member Karin Pfeiffer. A fourth island may also potentially be added near Bailey Street as part of planned resurfacing to be conducted by the City of East Lansing in 2022, but this would not be part of the SRTS grant projects.

If the grant is approved, the funding would start at the end of 2021, but the City's planned resurfacing of Burcham Drive is planned for 2022, so construction on the grant-funded changes would not start until Summer 2022

In a presentation before the East Lansing Board of Education Monday, Pfeiffer and City Engineering Administrator Nicole McPherson outlined a list of projects they hope to undertake to encourage schoolchildren to want to walk, bike or roll to school instead of being driven or taking a bus.

“We want to get them off the major routes and walking through the neighborhoods,” Pfeiffer said.

Safe Routes to School is administered by the environmental section of the Federal Highway Administration and managed by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to encourage children to walk and bike to school by improving safety and decreasing traffic, Pfeiffer said.

She and her colleagues are working with a team from Michigan State University to apply for a series of “major grants” of $200,000 per school to improve infrastructure around the schools. The MSU team helped the ELPS SRTS group engage in a long process that included public input to identify and prioritize the District's infrastructure needs for the walkable areas (about 1.5 mile radius) around the schools. 

Previously, East Lansing SRTS has only applied for and received “mini grants” of up to $25,000 that can only be used for education to “build a culture of walking, biking and rolling to school.” This has allowed them to sponsor events such as the Walk to School Day, and walking school buses at all the elementary schools, safety and crossing guard equipment, and hosting remote drop off and pick up areas to reduce congestion at schools.

But they now would like to expand into a major grant for sidewalks, crosswalks and other infrastructure improvements. Their first application, due in late June, would make improvements specifically for Marble Elementary and MacDonald Middle School. They are also working on future applications for improvements of Whitehills and Pinecrest Elementary Schools next year and Glencairn, Donley, and Red Cedar Schools in the future.

The largest portion of the project would create traffic islands at three intersections that now serve the middle school and Marble. The concrete islands, located in the center turn lanes, would include new signs and hopefully speed limit indicators, Pfeiffer said. They would also be moving all three crosswalks slightly to increase visibility.

Drawing indicating the location of the new crosswalk from John R Street to MacDonald Middle School across Burcham Drive. Courtesy of East Lansing Safe Routes to School. 

The application is also asking for sidewalks to be constructed on Snyder Road from Gunson Street to Stoddard Avenue to help students from the Bailey neighborhood avoid walking along Burcham Drive and instead stay within the neighborhood until they are closer to Marble and MacDonald Schools.

They also hope to add sidewalks on Snyder Road from John R Street to Moorland Drive, and improve John R Street as well, in the Southeast Marble neighborhood.

In addition to the improvements covered by the grant, the City will applied for a TAP grant and will be adding additional improvements including a new path from Lantern Hills and completing the sidewalk on the north side of Burcham Drive from MacDonald Middle School all the way eastward to Timberlane Street. (This means a new sidewalk near the sledding hill and baseball field).

Pfeiffer estimates that the group has a very good chance of receiving the grant, but work would not begin until 2021 because the City is already planning to work on Burcham Drive, so the island constructions would need to come afterward.

The City-funded construction of Burcham Drive can also include a similar traffic island at Burcham Drive and Bailey Street, moving slightly the current crosswalk to the East Lansing High School. This was good news to Board President Erin Graham.

“My daughter and I almost got killed there coming from the Orchestra concert,” she told the presenters.

The SRTS presentation to the Board may be viewed here. © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info