Safe Routes to School in Esko

Active Living
Success Story

March 10, 2024

Providing kids with a safe, convenient, and fun way to bike and walk to school is a vital safety measure with far-reaching benefits to a community’s health and wellbeing. Safe Routes to School can reduce the risk of pedestrian injury by 44 percent. It can also alleviate vehicle congestion and improve air quality. And it helps foster an active lifestyle for kids—students who start walking or biking to school get an average of 47 more minutes of physical activity per week.  

That’s why Emily Morrison, Carlton County Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) Coordinator, is collaborating with Esko Public Schools and the county’s engineering department to implement a Safe Routes to School Design Assistance grant. The project was sparked by County Engineer JinYeene Neumann, who saw an opportunity to improve the infrastructure for pedestrians around Winterquist Elementary and Esko High School to better support students who walk or bike to school.  

The work will begin this spring, when a contractor from the Minnesota Department of Health will lead and coordinate a study to examine design options that could include things like a pedestrian island, flashing beacons, speed enforcement signs, and redesigned crosswalks.  

Behind every successful project lies a web of partnerships. Superintendent Aaron Fisher of Esko Public Schools has shared data with Carlton County Public Health on things like the number of students who live within walking distance and how many kids bike to school. That data is collected by elementary teachers every fall and spring, and continuous tracking will help inform and evaluate the redesign of the intersection. The Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC) assisted with mapping neighborhood population density, a necessary piece of the grant application. And Neumann, along with Assistant County Engineer Rick Norrgard, continue to champion this work every step of the way.  

In essence, this initiative is about nurturing a community-wide commitment to the wellbeing of kids and families by bridging the realms of education, public health, and local governance. Through collaboration and data-driven decision-making, Carlton County is not just building safer streets—they're paving the way for a healthier future for generations to come.

See the Minnesota Department of Health’s page on Safe Routes to School for sources and more information.

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