Point Arena Mayor Lauren Sinnott’s grant-writing efforts paid off in a big way this week. “I knew the decision was coming, but I wouldn’t let myself think about it,” said Sinnott. Then the State announced that $450,000 was awarded to the City under the Safe Routes to School program. Eighty-five projects were chosen this year from all over California, funded by $25 million in State Highway Account money. Point Arena’s project was ranked number one in Caltrans District 1, comprising Humboldt, Del Norte, Lake and Mendocino counties. Only two awards were made in the district, with Point Arena receiving the maximum funding.

The highly competitive program is aimed at removing barriers to students walking and biking to school. Those barriers include unsafe infrastructure, such as elements of the two main intersections in Point Arena that will be rebuilt. Safe Routes to Schools (SR2S) is an international movement bringing together elected officials, governmental agencies and professionals in health, planning and transportation around a funding source for concrete improvements that benefit not only our children but everyone else in the community as well.

“We showed how meaningful this would be to a rural district which is very large – 50 miles from north to south,” said Sinnott. “The rural student is most likely to arrive at school by vehicle, but that is not the end of the story. Once at school, many pedestrian student trips are taken from the classroom to the library, the theater, the cove, the park, and to other of our city’s five school campuses.  In addition, a student-by-student analysis of kids who live in Point Arena showed an excellent proportion walking or biking from home to school (87%).”

The new intersection designs flowed out of the Point Arena Community Action Plan (CAP), conducted by the Bay-Area firm DC&E and funded by Caltrans through the Mendocino Council of Governments (MCOG). The CAP was based on extensive public participation and had a Council-directed emphasis on practical solutions based on preliminary traffic engineering by Fehr & Peers. Technical assistance from MCOG staff and City Engineer Dave Paoli, as well as the support of local agencies was invaluable during the grant writing process. Sinnott sits on the MCOG board and has benefited from its dedication to board member education. She attended the National Safe Routes to Schools Conference in Portland, which gave her the background to prepare the city’s proposal.

The application, which might have cost $3-4,000 if contracted out, was written without requiring anything from the tiny city’s small staff and thus was accomplished at no cost to the city other than Mayor Sinnott’s monthly $100 stipend. “I took on this project because the city could never make such major improvements with its own funds. This is one of our biggest grants since the Pier in the late ‘80s.”

Phil Dow, Executive Director of MCOG was enthusiastic about the speed with which the project followed the planning step (the CAP) and went on to say, “The entire project cost is more than could be built with the maximum program award. The good news is that MCOG has already announced our Bicycle and Pedestrian Program funding cycle, which could not only provide the City's 10% match, but also the remaining funds needed to complete all four phases ($571,000 total). Again, congratulations for having been awarded the largest Safe Routes to School grant the program has to offer!”

The intersections destined for major improvement are both on Hwy. 1: at the top of Main Street where the Elementary School’s retaining wall creates a sight barrier at the southbound terminus of Lake Street, and on Hwy. 1 at the western end of Lake Street, where the flow of traffic is typically observed to be so fast and sight distance so minimal that pedestrians including very small children often have to run to avoid cars as well as the inevitable, logging trucks, gravel trucks with fully-loaded trailers, ambulances, buses and RVs. The designs of both intersections may be viewed in the Point Arena CAP, which is available at www.cityofpointarena.com.  In addition, the gaps in Lake Street’s sidewalks, where five school campuses are located, will be constructed.

The project will go out to competitive bid and contractors from Mendocino County are highly encouraged to participate. This new project means jobs and the city wants these dollars to stay as close to home as possible. The project also allows the city to promote walking and biking and the health benefits that these activities bring.

But the biggest reward was described by City Engineer Paoli to Mayor Sinnott:

“I could definitely hear the excitement in your voice about this award.  It is very satisfying to achieve something like this and know that it might save children from injury for decades to come.” 

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