Situated between two partial highways, safe access to North Star Academy does not seem an obvious project to gain community support for non-motorized transit. However, Marquette Township and the school pursued Safe Routes to School funding for its first large non-motorized project in the area because the low match of the grant made it easy for the Township board to support it.
After passing that initial hurdle, there was some initial push back about the project’s proximity to businesses, with owners worried the pathway would bring loitering with vandalism of signs and property. This perception was a challenge in selling the project to business stakeholders. However, their worries haven’t come to fruition, and many businesses are now pleased with the project and the additional way for customers to access their location.
As the first project of this size, the planning process helped to form and grow the relationships needed to get the community thinking more broadly about their non-motorized transit network. Jason McCarthy, Planner and Zoning Administrator for Marquette Charter Township, remarked, “The SRTS project helped us see ourselves as a non-motorized community for future planning endeavors by using a complete streets mentality. We see the benefit of this project in how it increases health, awareness, and appreciation of non-motorized facilities. Non-motorized pathways pull people into our community and through it. Active transit is a very key component for our community. We’re all supportive of projects that increase the quality of life here.”
The school saw Safe Routes as an opportunity for students to explore what they have in their community. With the area being more walkable overall, the programming helped the schools initiate a culture shift focused on walking. Starting with the design of the project, the high school engineering classes studied what was happening as it was put in place. These students, in turn, taught and mentored the younger grades in the building that serves K-12 grade students about how to use the new facilities to safely make crossings to access the school.
Stemming from the ability to get miles by walking to school, students raised money last year for the miles they walked. They reached nearly 5,000 miles with classes competing together to be inclusive; no one was signaled out if walking to school wasn’t an option for them. Andrea Ballard, North Star Academy Principal comments, “The Safe Routes programming has a strong community aspect with rodeos and events, which opened safety up to the broader community. We continue to see the connection between the school and community as we draw a more consistent group of students from the nearby area because we’re more accessible now.”
Infrastructure Grant Amount $527,812
Non-Infrastructure Grant Amount $12,466
Project Impact: The roughly 1.25 mile 10’ shared use path connects North Star Academy, located near a busy business park, to existing maintenance strips frequently used for nonmotorized transit along a corridor leading to the main residential area to the East.