Santa Ana Partners With City’s Kids to Bring a Safer Route to School

Google screenshot of part of the project area, right in front of a middle school.
Google screenshot of part of the project area, right in front of a middle school.

Unsafe routes and dangerous intersections. These are the two largest barriers for parents when deciding whether or not to allow their kids to ride their bikes or walk to school. But a group of students in Santa Ana are not willing to let these barriers stand and, as a result, one unsafe route to school will soon be getting a new protected bike lane.

A group of youth leaders in Santa Ana Kidworks’ BikeIt! program worked with city staff on a $2.36 million grant to install a protected bike lane along a one-and-three-quarter-mile stretch of heavily traveled Edinger Avenue between the Santa Ana River Trail on the west and Bristol Street on the east. The project will include raised medians, buffers, and delineators to provide separation from vehicle traffic.

Leading the KidWorks’ Bike It! Santa Ana team were students Maribel Mateo, who now attends Cal State Fullerton, and Tony Gatica. Components of the comprehensive grant proposal undertaken by the youth included a bike survey, geographic information systems (GIS) mapping, and videography. The students were also responsible for reaching out to the community to explain the project and help get feedback from residents and businesses along the route.

In short, while the city was heavily involved in the process, it was the students who got a first-hand experience in seeing a project grow from the conception phase through final funding.

While the experience of working on the grant was exciting for Mateo, she gave a more personal reason for working on the project. Her father was hit by a car while bicycling on nearby Harvard Street and thrown from his bicycle. While he recovered it was a stark reminder of how crashes can happen to anyone.

Most of the students who worked on the grant use that street to get to school.

“A lot of us walk to school and there isn’t a sidewalk. Some of us bike, and there is no bike lane,” Mateo explained. “We had real background with this project, real stories. That motivated us to write an active transportation grant and write about our stories.”

While Mateo is proud that the grant has been funded, it doesn’t mean the bike lane is just going to appear on the street tomorrow. According to Kidworks staff, it could be two more years until the project is completed. While the funding has been approved, it won’t be given out until the spring of next year. Additionally, because there is construction involved with the project, the city won’t be ready to build the project until it goes through a design process.

The waiting is problematic. Some students that were in middle school when the outreach began for the grant will be college-aged by the time the project is on the ground. Even when a city is ready for change and benefits from a collaboration between a community, advocates, city staff, and elected officials, the process can still be slower than many would like.

But Mateo is undeterred. She calls the grant “important” and believes that “not only will more [people] walk and bike to school” when the project is finished, “it also means that students will have a safer trip.”

Safety played the most important role in the decision by city officials to move this project to the front of the line for funding.

“This isn’t about building bike lanes. It’s all about safety,” said Santa Ana Councilmember Michele Martinez in a statement released by the city. A cyclist herself, Martinez was an important part of the team that brought the Active Transportation Program funding to Santa Ana as a leader with the Southern California Association of Governments.

“I’ve experienced myself the challenges that bike riders have – riding on sidewalks and sometimes against traffic. It’s how more and more people get to work (and school) and it’s unsafe,” she said.

Being one of the lead authors on a successful grant of over $2 million is an impressive milestone for someone of any age, but don’t expect Mateo to be a grant writer once she graduates.

“It was a great opportunity to write the grant,” Mateo explains, “but I don’t think I want to do it again. I’m majoring in civil engineering so I want to be designing projects.”

The grant comes from the state’s Active Transportation Grant Program. The program funded two other projects in Santa Ana, including protected bike lanes on Santa Ana Boulevard and 5th Street ($5.4 million) and the Civic Center Bike Boulevard ($3.7 million). In total, there are 34 active transportation projects in Southern California that were approved for funding by the California Transportation Commission.

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