Altoona Works to Improve Safety on the Streets

Matt Biren

Walking to School in Altoona
Walking to School in Altoona

Important work is underway in Altoona to bring improved safety and access to the way residents of all ages get around and enjoy the community.

The West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (WCWRPC) and the City of Altoona are working to upgrade transportation for residents of and visitors to the city and the greater Chippewa Valley.  For the safety of children going to and from school, as well as cyclists, pedestrians, and residents with mobility concerns, the goals are to improve routes and paths for connecting points throughout the city and region, and to integrate parks, trails, and pathways in a thoughtful, cohesive, sustainable framework with safety and ease of access throughout.

The regional planning commissions’ Safe Routes to Schools program has been used throughout western Wisconsin. When the program was introduced to Altoona in 2008, it resulted in restructured crosswalks, improved signs, and school programs to increase awareness of the safety of children going to and from school. The Safe Routes program – which was pioneered in Denmark in the 1970s and quickly spread worldwide – was from the beginning developed with the basic mission of improving safety for students traveling to and from school. The intent is that this plan will be revisited on a regular basis. Routes are to be examined, improved, and expanded, and educational programs are to be continued as a ways of supporting an active and safe walking and bicycling culture.

In addition to improving safety through local decisions, having a Safe Routes plan in place enables the community to access state and federal funds to help implement it. This worked out well considering Altoona’s growing and changing population, the recent changes to the existing Altoona school campus, and the construction of a new elementary school on County Highway KB. These changes have created challenges as well. In November, the Altoona City Council approved an agreement to partner with WCWRPC to revise the 2008 Safe Routes to School plan. That effort began early in 2017, with findings and recommendations to follow. The city also approved an engineering study of Bartlett Avenue/County Highway KB in cooperation with Eau Claire County, which will include design options and cost estimates for incorporating bicycle elements to the corridor when the roadway east of Third Street is resurfaced in 2018.

Likewise, the city has made expanding safe, accessible, and enjoyable ways to walk and bike part of its long-range planning through the development of a Parks, Recreation, and Trails Master Plan. The planning process will include selecting and prioritizing best practices to integrate non-motorized transportation into existing and new neighborhoods in a way that complements and improves existing systems. The addition of more parks, green spaces, and trails has long been a part of the city’s plans, but this will be a more comprehensive, deliberate, and thoughtful approach.

“This plan will provide a guide to ensure a cohesive and ambitious approach to developing and maintaining multi-functional, high-quality, and high-performance public spaces of all types,” City Planner Josh Clements said. “We will be prioritizing safety and promoting increased use of parks and bicycle facilities everywhere.” One way the city will achieve this is by using the models and recommendations from the Safe Routes to School study, and applying similar principles to developing safe routes to parks and other destinations.

The WCWRPC Safe Routes to Schools study, combined with the Altoona Parks, Recreation, and Trails Master Plan, will deliver multiple complementary strategies to improve the community’s quality of life and nurture its continued growth.