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Safe Routes Programs “Popping Up” in Monterey County

By: Todd Muck on Aug 02, 2019
Children play on kid sized roads at Pop Up Museum

This Summer, children in Monterey County learned about bike and pedestrian safety at “My Town: A Pop-up Children’s Museum.”   The exhibit first "popped up" at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas where about 200 people a day visited over the summer. 

MY Town is a pop-up children’s museum, a place for kids to explore their very own miniature city. The exhibit features a neighborhood playscape with a library, store, streets, and other elements of vibrant and healthy communities. It offers a unique opportunity to teach traffic safety skills to young children while engaging parents to think about safety. And everyone comes away with a better and understanding of local and regional transportation resources.

The opportunity to expose so many kids to this kind of learning in critical because Salinas has 8 times the national average of child pedestrian traffic fatalities. 

The program is funded in part by Measure X, the county’s recently adopted transportation sales tax measure (adopted in 2016).  The Transportation Agency of Monterey County (TAMC) is the sales tax authority. The new funding allowed TAMC to partner with California State University, Monterey Bay, MY Museum, First Five Monterey County, Salinas Public Library and Hijos del Sol Art Productions to launch the program. Their goal is to develop better infrastructure for students traveling to and from school, educate children and the community how to safely walk and bike, and encourage children to use active transportation that will lead to a healthier lifestyle.
The addition of Measure X funds have allowed TAMC to engage on this issue in other ways. One significant project has been to develop safety recommendations for 15 schools in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District based on community input.  To assure full engagement, TAMC collaborated with the Monterey County Health Department, City of Seaside Public Works, City of Marina Public Works, and Ecology Action, a Santa Cruz based nonprofit. Together, with some additional funding from the SB1 Sustainable Planning Grant Program, these groups developed an engaging and hands-on planning process including bilingual community meetings with childcare provided, walking audits, and temporary on-street demonstrations.

Its making a difference. In May 2019, the team selected two improvements identified through the planning process to “test” on the street for a two-week period.  The on-street demonstrations transformed one street in Seaside and one street in Marina into more walkable and bikeable places. Public opinion surveys and count data were collected for each demonstration to gauge whether or not the improvements should be made permanent and if the design should be improved. The project team received lots of good feedback from the community and city staff which will be included in the final Seaside & Marina Safe Routes to School Plan and future grant applications.   

More bicycle training classes are another outcome. The Measure X Safe Routes to School Program has also set a goal of providing pedestrian safety classes to all 2nd graders and bicycle safety classes to all 5th graders in Monterey County.  TAMC has contracted with Ecology Action to teach bicycle and pedestrian safety in elementary schools in the Salinas Valley, Marina, and Seaside over the next five years. Last year, 2,155 students were trained and 156 students learned how to ride a bicycle for the first time.

Developing Partnerships is the Key

Collaboration is one of TAMC’s strengths, as is thinking outside the box to find new and fun ways to engage the community in transportation projects. The Measure X Safe Routes to School program’s success can be attributed to both.  Every safe routes to school plan and project has been done in partnership with the County Health Department and other community organizations interested in the health and safety of children in Monterey County. The Transportation Agency facilitates regular safe routes to school meetings with key partners and semi-annual meetings with a larger safe routes to school taskforce to coordinate and identify new opportunities. Through these partnerships, the Measure X Safe Routes to School Program has been able to leverage resources and expand it’s reach to a larger and more diverse community.

In short, Measure X has many components that will improve transportation infrastructure throughout Monterey County.  And the County's youngest residents are among the first to realize it's benefits. 

Things That Make this Effort Successful

  • After much work, the voters of Monterey County supported a local sales tax measure
  • TAMC has a culture of community collaboration, and has emerged as a trusted source
  • The Transportation Agency facilitates regular safe routes to school meetings with key partners and semi-annual meetings with a larger safe routes to school taskforce to coordinate and identify new opportunities.
  • Looked for opportunities—like the pop-up museum—to insert a curriculum instead of creating and independent program.  Also an outcome of collaboration
  • Staff and Board is committed to childhood safety.