Small town transportation infrastructure improvements creates big picture results in Petersburg

Summerfield Junior & Senior High School students use the new multiuse path on their after school commute
Summerfield Junior & Senior High School students use the new multiuse path on their after school commute

Home to about 1,200 residents, the .49 square mile City of Petersburg in Southeast Michigan’s Monroe County is the second smallest city in Michigan after Clarkston.

The sidewalks and crossings in this rural area lacked accessibility which made it difficult for students to safely commute to and from school. This spurred the City of Petersburg Mayor James Holeman to investigate ways to make improvements. Holeman explained “We want everything and everybody to be safe. We don’t want any situations where children are trying to get to school and having issues with traffic or sidewalks.”

The City of Petersburg is in the Summerfield School District which includes Summerfield Elementary School and Summerfield Junior & Senior High School. The small school district also serves families in Summerfield Township, parts of Ida Township, Dundee Township, and Deerfield Township.

A group of area stakeholders led by the City and Summerfield School District began looking at traffic and sidewalk infrastructure improvements that would help students on their school commute. They found broad support from the community to apply for a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) major grant to operationalize improvements.

The City engineer took the lead on the project with input from the stakeholder team. Together, they began the community engagement phase of the planning process. Holeman shared, “I would say that we received 99% positive comments. There were a few concerns brought forth such as sidewalk going across the lawns of properties that didn’t have sidewalks previously, and that kids were going to continue to use shortcuts similar to the one the kids used near the church parking lot.”

To alleviate some of those concerns, the stakeholder team explained to the worried community members that the new infrastructure was designed to provide a safer and more direct and dedicated route to the schools, and the new route should reduce the need for students to take shortcuts across their properties.

After the installation of the infrastructure improvements, their concerns were indeed alleviated when those that had concerns saw students using the new sidewalks and routes to get to and from school, instead of creating new shortcuts, or using shortcuts they had used in the past.

Some of the additional infrastructure improvements included designated crosswalks, a solar-powered LED flashing beacon and signage along the fast-paced North Division Road near the Jr. and Sr. High School entrance and approximately 2.8 miles of new five-foot-wide infill sidewalks and asphalt multiuse path. Additional crossing improvements, such as crosswalk striping, and ADA ramps were made along feeder streets around the schools too.

A new safety yellow pedestrian crossing sign
A new safety yellow pedestrian crossing sign at the crosswalk to Summerfield Elementary School
Students pass by a neighborhood farm stand using the new sidewalk that provides a safe space away from vehicle traffic.
Students pass by a neighborhood farm stand using the new sidewalk that provides a safe space away from vehicle traffic.
Surrounded by fall foliage, student stake the new multiuse path on their school commute
Surrounded by fall foliage, students take the new multiuse path on their school commute

Overall, the SRTS project was well received by the community. Holeman said the City also created strong community partnerships through the SRTS project.

With community-wide support for the project and more people using sidewalks and paths, Holeman says the city and local residents now have the joint responsibility to ensure easy access to the sidewalks and paths for students by keeping them clear and maintained throughout the seasons.

“The students that use the sidewalks has definitely increased…I would say sixfold. They use them a lot more than they did before, and we have a lot more people walking on the sidewalks now too. The Safe Routes to School project has had a very beneficial effect. It’s been great for everyone in the community,” said Holeman. “It has allowed us to take care of sidewalks that were in bad shape and needed replacement. It allowed us to put in sidewalks and paths where there weren’t any before, the community as a whole is more active and most assuredly, the children are safer getting to and from school.”

Project Impact

The SRTS Major Grant afforded the City of Petersburg the ability to upgrade infrastructure and institute traffic calming improvements to keep children safe and safely separated from traffic on their school commute. In addition to the infrastructure and safety improvements, the SRTS project also provided the students and residents with accessible walking, biking, and rolling routes which has created a welcoming space to be active that will impact community health for decades to come.

MDOT Infrastructure Investment: $498,917

This project was made possible through the collaborative efforts of the City of Petersburg, Summerfield School District, Michigan Fitness Foundation, Michigan Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration.

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