NEWS-SENTINEL GUEST COLUMN: Sidewalks connect communities safely

Bob Rinearson

In 2016, when Fort Wayne Community Schools announced to the public their new No-Transportation school zones, much of the public voiced its trepidation, while others in the community remained utterly confused.

The No Transportation policies came about as a result of budgetary cuts bestowed upon the FWCS Transportation Department. Two and a half million dollars was to be slashed, meaning that school bus services had to be cut. As a result, it was decided by the FWCS upper administrative echelon to expand the student walk-in zones. Thus, for high school students, they now found themselves having to come up with their own modes of getting to school if they lived within a two mile radius of their assigned school. Middle-schoolers had to come-up with transportation if they lived within a mile and a half, and elementary students if they lived within a mile of their school.

For many high schoolers, they saw it as little inconvenience since many drove themselves or simply hitched rides with friends or older siblings. But for middle-schoolers and most notably elementary students including kindergartners, this was not good news. Many working parents panicked trying to figure out how to get their children to school on time while getting themselves to the job.

But the most pressing issue was the safety of the students. For once, it was the inner-city student who was ahead of the game on this school challenge. For many grew up in neighborhoods connected by city sidewalks that had been accessible as early on as prior to World War II. Sidewalks was a constant resource that offered the pedestrian safe navigation.

But for those children who grew up in the Fort Wayne’s suburbs, walking a mile to school often when it was still dark outside, or when treacherous weather existed was unimaginable. For many of those areas that had been annexed into the city, and with all the benefits promised to them, sidewalks were not a part of the deal.

Areas with major streets including Reed Road, Rothman, St. Joe Center Road, Ardmore and Engle, all presented major concerns for children who now had to walk to school. Along St. Joe Center, the volume of traffic involved made sidewalks a priority. When considering Ardmore and Engle, the number of active railroad tracks only invited disaster for a child tempted to cut across tracks where trains hurried on at great speeds.

But to their credit, county planners, street engineers, emergency responders and school officials all came together. Plans for providing sidewalks, crossing signals, and painted crosswalks were scheduled to become a reality.

At the time I was given the assignment to scout the whole of the FWCS district in order to locate those streets and areas that presented the most safety concerns. On numerous occasions I rode with Fort Wayne Police Deputy Chiefs to make sure that dangerous hot spots were targeted.

Of course, when tackling such enormous challenges, both logistics and expense could not be ignored. And for many parents who demanded changes be put into place immediately, such a magic act was not feasible. But the push has remained steady.

Watching the hard work of those putting sidewalks in place along St. Joe Center Road and Reed Road has presented an awakening. These sidewalks will not only offer safe passage for children walking to and from school, but these concrete paths now connect separate communities allowing people to meet new neighbors. It gives benefit to those who want exercise, and an alternative to those who don’t want to pile into the car just to drive to the grocery to pick-up a few items when a refreshing walk is now viable.

A sidewalk is a funny thing to take for granted, but I don’t anymore.

Robert Rinearson is a Fort Wayne resident.