From a competitive pool of nationwide applicants, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership has selected the Taos Land Trust to join Safe Routes to Parks Activating Communities, a technical assistance program focused on improving safe and equitable local park access. As part of the program, Taos, New Mexico will be among ten diverse communities across the country to receive training and coaching from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership to develop an action plan for improving active travel to local parks and green spaces and implement early actions from the plan. The national initiative is funded by The JPB Foundation. Safe Routes to Parks initiatives work to improve safety and security for people walking, bicycling, and rolling to parks and green spaces. This need is especially pronounced in neighborhoods and communities lacking infrastructure to support safe walking and bicycling.
The Taos Land Trust has been working on trails and walkability since 2015. The primary goal of the Safe Routes project is to create a safe walking route between Taos High School, Taos Integrated School of the Arts (TISA) and Rio Fernando Park and Fred Baca Park. Improvements to this 10-block (.75 mi) route along La Posta Road would provide over 900 students safe walking access to these parks. Furthermore, it would connect dozens of small businesses, medical services, and several low-income residential neighborhoods. It also connects the main highway and the primary bike route which both cross La Posta. Much of the current route needs simple improvements, although 1,000 feet needs a new sidewalk, and 1,000 feet will be a path through Rio Fernando Park to Fred Baca Park.
The Safe Routes to Parks Activating Communities program aims to remove barriers that make it hard for people to enjoy the physical, social, and mental health benefits that parks offer and proactively work toward ensuring safe, secure access to parks and open spaces. Over the long term, with increased safety and accessibility, Safe Routes to Parks seeks to increase park usage and improve health for people of all ages, races, abilities, and income levels.
“Creating a safe walking route will overcome the main barrier that keeps our schools from using our parks for outdoor science learning, sports and exercise,” says Jim O’Donnell, Communications Coordinator for the Taos Land Trust. “Both schools are within a 15-minute walk of the parks, yet because of safety, we must pay for transportation for students to participate in educational programs at the park.”
Taos Land Trust Executive Director Kristina Ortez points out that “our organization’s primary goal is keeping our community connected to the land. We do this by helping people protect farms and working lands, but also through creating the Rio Fernando Park and improving walkability. This initiative will allow us to build momentum for in-town pathways so it is also central to our mission.”
“This initiative builds on the Walkability Assessment we conducted last summer with huge support from the Town of Taos and a wide array of community members,” says Ortez. See Taos Walkability Workshop Report.
The timeline for the Safe Routes to School Partnership runs through the Fall of 2019 so the Land Trust has to set to work right away.
“Taos folks who want to get involved in this effort or keep informed should get in touch with us,” says O’Donnell. “We will be developing an email list for participants and keeping the community updated on our blog.”
The Safe Routes to School National Partnership advances safe walking and bicycling to and from schools, to improve the health and well being of kids of all races, income levels and abilities, and to foster the creation of healthy communities for everyone. For more information, please visit www.saferoutespartnership.org.
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