CHATHAM, NJ - Chatham Township received a $578,000 grant for sidewalks from the federally- funded Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Program, the largest of the 2014 grants awarded to municipalities in New Jersey.

The funding will be used to construct sidewalks on the east side of Lafayette Avenue from Lafayette Avenue School to Watchung Avenue and on the south side of Spring Street from Lafayette Avenue to the Southern Boulevard School path entrance on Dale Drive.

Parents responding to a SRTS Committee survey on hazards their children face walking or biking to school identified the need for sidewalks in these two locations.  The township and borough as well as the Chatham Board of Education and Morris County supported the grant application for the new sidewalks.

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“Encouraging and enabling more students to walk or bike to school helps alleviate environmental and traffic problems, and is better for the overall health of our students,” wrote Superintendent Michael LaSusa in a letter supporting the sidewalks.

The grants are awarded to municipalities that actively worked to improve pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, educate the public about pedestrian and bicycle safety, and encourage children in grades K-8 to walk and bike to school.  Nearly $6 million in grants were awarded in 2014.

In Chatham, the SRTS Committee organized monthly Walk to School Days, conducted surveys on commuting hazards, tracked how students travel to and from school, collected data on traffic accidents near schools, and worked with the police on safety presentations, among other things. 

As part of the SRTS program, the committee received free guidance from TransOptions, a transportation management association.

“Chatham has become our model school district,"  Andrew Lappitt, TransOptions SRTS coordinator, who is currently advising New Providence and Millburn, among other communities, on SRTS grant applications. "Whenever we do outreach we bring examples (of Chatham’s work) because it is so comprehensive and so good." 

Lappitt added that he was thrilled that Chatham received the highest award, but because of the “overwhelming support and the amount of time that people spent on this, it should not be a surprise.”

The SRTS Committee, formed in 2011, is chaired by former Chatham Township Committee member Kathy Abbott and includes parents from each school with input from school district administrators, town officials and the police.

As the school district’s student population grows and busing options are limited, creating safe walking and biking routes to school is the focus of the committee.

“First we identified the low hanging fruit, creating a list for both Township and Borough engineers and administrators of needed sidewalk and walking path repairs, vegetation removal in sight triangles, new or repainted crosswalks and stop signs,” Abbott said. “Then we worked hard to identify where new sidewalks near schools were most needed.  We polled parents in all six schools.”

The borough and township have already made many requested improvements such as sidewalk repairs, additional crossing guards, new crosswalks and signs, and enhancements to walking paths.

In the township, the Spring Street sidewalk will be located near two paths that many children take to and from Southern Boulevard School.  The area was identified in the survey as dangerous due to heavy vehicle and pedestrian congestion at drop off and pick up times.

The sidewalk proposed for Lafayette Avenue, a main corridor for students traveling to Lafayette Avenue School, Chatham Middle School and Chatham High School would run through the township and a small section of the borough.

“I’m so grateful to Kathy and the Safe Routes to School Community,” said Carole Ethridge, a borough resident with school-age children who petitioned for such a sidewalk a few years ago. “No longer will many of those children have to cut through yards or dash across busy Lafayette Avenue.”

SRTS is a federally funded program administered by NJDOT in partnership with the three Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in New Jersey – North Jersey Transportation Authority (NJTPA), Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) and South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization (SJTPO).

The SRTS Committee invites residents to provide feedback on this issue or any other issues concerning safe commutes to school.  Please visit the committee’s Facebook page athttps://www.facebook.com/csrts.org?fref=ts