From Mini to Major Grant in Grosse Pointe

Over the last decade, the Michigan Safe Routes to School (SRTS) team has been encouraging communities to think of their programming, planning and infrastructure design needs with a holistic, district-wide approach. Instead of focusing on improving active transportation for students and families around one school, they have been encouraging stakeholders to consider all schools in the district when approaching improvements to the built environment. However, they recognized a holistic approach could be especially complex in larger school districts. In some instances, they found it better to ease into district wide multilevel planning in phases by starting with one school, then adding a few more, and finally incorporating the entire district.

To illustrate how multilevel planning can work in phases, this article will focus on how Grosse Pointe Public Schools (GPPS) approached their SRTS project.

Students at an intersection on a walking audit
Walking Audit Grosse Pointe

When staff at Maire Elementary School in the City of Grosse Pointe found students were experiencing significant issues while walking and biking to school, they contacted the SRTS team to discuss solutions. After their initial meeting, a SRTS program seemed like a good fit, and they began their SRTS planning process. This consisted of a walk and bike audit, parent and student surveys, and an action plan meeting, which led to the grant application process. The goal was to update critical intersections around the school along with education and encouragement programming for their students. In 2018, their application was approved and they received funding for their project.

Because of the success of the SRTS project at Maire Elementary School, other schools in the district were determined to do the same. In 2020, GPPS decided to apply for a mini grant to provide weekly walk and bike to schools days and educational bike rodeos for students in the district.

A bike rack full of student bikes from Bike to School day
Bike to School Day – Bike Rack Full

GPPS Community Relations Specialist Rebecca Fannon noted that the district thought starting small with programming would excite the other schools to join in the infrastructure planning process. Saying that “people loved bike registrations to walk and bike to school day and because of that success, we could get more educational information {about the program} out to parents and kids.”

When several other schools in the district looked to join the planning process, the community was “right-sizing” and consolidating schools, which caused some delays and other challenges. GPPS schools are located across six different municipalities, and the committee had to engage multiple communities and local governments throughout the process. To successfully navigate this level of engagement, GPPS brought on the SRTS planning team from the Michigan State University (MSU) College of Environmental Engineering and MSU School of Planning and Design to assist.

The MSU team helped navigate the challenges cited above and helped keep the project on track and the community-engaged when GPPS went virtual due to the  COVID-19 pandemic. “We thought we had a lot of good engagement during the first meetings,” noted Fannon. “But then we realized we didn’t have everyone at the table. So, we worked on engaging people who were impacted by the project and those that could make an impact.”

Section of a walking audit where there is a puddle covering the sidewalk due to poor drainage. Two students are standing by the puddle with a man approaching. A clip board with the audit form is in the foreground. The background is a residential street with fall trees.
Walking Audit for Gross Pointe Park

Next, GPPS realized the importance of prioritizing their grant applications. Their first application was to address the student population affected by the permanent closing of Defer Elementary School & Pierce Middle School in Grosse Pointe Park. Then, they followed up with an application for Parcells Middle School & Mason Elementary School in Grosse Pointe Woods.

GPPS continues to prepare more SRTS projects for their district and their phased approach is working well to address their needs.

Creating a robust Safe Routes to School program varies for each community and there is no one-size-fits-all approach as illustrated in this article. To create a SRTS program in your community, contact Michigan Fitness Foundation’s SRTS team.


Funding for this project was provided by:
  • MDOT Maire Elementary School Infrastructure Investment: $94,825.45
  • MDOT Maire Elementary School Non-infrastructure Investment: $9,999.50
  • MDOT GPPS Districtwide Programming Grant: $40,000
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