Safe Routes “Popping Up” in Monterey County

My Town Exhibit at Steinbeck Center

“And everywhere people asked him why he was walking through the country.
Because he loved true things . . .”

– John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

This Summer, children in Monterey County learned about bike and pedestrian safety at “My Town: A Pop-up Children’s Museum.”  The exhibit first “popped up” at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas where about 200 people a day visited over the summer. 

MY Town is a pop-up children’s museum, a place for kids to explore their very own miniature city. The exhibit features a neighborhood playscape with a library, store, streets, and other elements of vibrant and healthy communities. It offers a unique opportunity to teach traffic safety skills to young children while engaging parents to think about safety. And everyone comes away with a better and understanding of local and regional transportation resources.

The opportunity to expose so many kids to this kind of learning in critical because Salinas has 8 times the national average of child pedestrian traffic fatalities.

Local Measure Funding for Safe Routes to School

The program is funded in part by Measure X, the county’s recently adopted transportation sales tax measure (adopted in 2016).  The Transportation Agency of Monterey County (TAMC) is the sales tax authority. The new funding allowed TAMC to partner with California State University, Monterey Bay, MY Museum, First Five Monterey County, Salinas Public Library and Hijos del Sol Art Productions to launch the program. Their goal is to develop is to improve the safety of students throughout the county.  The program’s focus areas are improved safety infrastructure and education about safe biking and walking.  The program also encourages children to use active transportation options that will lead to a healthier lifestyle.

The addition of Measure X funds has allowed TAMC to engage on this issue in other ways. One significant project has been to develop safety recommendations for 15 schools in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District based on community input.  To assure full engagement, TAMC collaborated with the Monterey County Health Department, City of Seaside Public Works, City of Marina Public Works, and Ecology Action, a Santa Cruz based nonprofit. Together, with some additional funding from the SB1 Sustainable Planning Grant Program, these groups developed an engaging and hands-on planning process including bilingual community meetings with childcare provided, walking audits, and temporary on-street demonstrations.

Making a Difference

In May 2019, the team selected two improvements identified through the planning process to “test” on the street for a two-week period.  The on-street demonstrations transformed one street in Seaside and one street in Marina into more walkable and bikeable places. Public opinion surveys and count data were collected for each demonstration to gauge whether the improvements should be made permanent and if the design should be improved. The project team received lots of feedback from the community and city staff which will be included in the final Seaside & Marina Safe Routes to School Plan and future grant applications.

More bicycle training classes are another outcome. The Measure X Program has also set a goal of providing pedestrian safety classes to all 2nd graders and bicycle safety classes to all 5th graders in Monterey County.  TAMC has contracted with Ecology Action to teach bicycle and pedestrian safety in elementary schools in the Salinas Valley, Marina, and Seaside over the next five years. Last year, 2,155 students were trained and 156 students learned how to ride a bicycle for the first time.

Developing Partnerships is the Key

Collaboration is one of TAMC’s strengths, as is thinking “outside the box” to find fun new ways to engage the community.  On. a project by project basis, TAMC partners with the County Health Department and other organizations.  Programmatically, TAMC facilitates regular meetings with key partners to identify new opportunities. As a result, the Measure X Safe Routes to School Program leverages local knowledge and expands it’s reach to a larger and more diverse community.

In short, the goal is to improve the safety for the county’s youngest residents.  Measure X turn that goal into reality in neighborhoods across Monterey County.

Things That Make this Effort Successful

  • After much work, the voters of Monterey County supported a local sales tax measure
  • TAMC has a culture of community collaboration and has emerged as a trusted source
  • Regular meetings with key partners and semi-annual meetings with a larger task force to identify new opportunities.
  • Looked for opportunities—like the pop-up museum—to insert a curriculum instead of creating an independent program.  Also an outcome of collaboration
  • Staff and Board are committed to childhood safety.
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