Get the point and head for school on foot

By Lachlan Durling

NATIONAL Walk Safely to School Day has hit a rough patch — or a bindi-eye — in Echuca East.

Today around Australia students are walking, scooting and riding to school to get active but families east of town are being forced to swap their two wheels for four and take the car.

Mud, gravel edges, no cycling lanes, dangerous intersections and the railway line that splits the town are proving some serious barriers for active students.

But if the Active Transport Echuca East Group (ATEEG) has anything to do with it, the car wouldn’t be the only way.

The group is working with Campaspe Shire on the draft active transport strategy to identify problem paths, roads and crossings across town before the consultation deadline of Friday next week.

And it’s looking for strength in numbers, encouraging people to submit their feedback to the draft plans.

‘‘We want to be active and we want our children to be active, but we need to make sure people see the current challenges we face around town,’’ organiser Jodi Ujimoto said.

‘‘Today is the national Walk Safely To School Day, and while many parents in Echuca East want their children to participate, many unfortunately are unable to do so.

‘‘We’re challenged by a lack of bike lanes, mud and a whole lot of bindy-eye weeds — which you can’t scoot, ride or walk over.’’

Armed with a hoard of case studies, the group has been working with council to identify popular routes around town for school students to walk or ride to school — including how to navigate the railway line and the lack of bike lanes on roads.

‘‘There are high school students who travel via the levee track to Echuca College, St Joseph’s College and Moama Anglican Grammar School,’’ Mrs Ujimoto said.

‘‘Many more would like to do so, however crossing Goulburn Rd at Bowen St or Sutton St safely is another daily challenge.

‘‘In addition, many primary school-aged children need a safe crossing option at Goulburn Rd so they can travel safely to Echuca East Primary School.’’

With the number of families living in estates around the Echuca Racecourse growing, ATEEG would like to see more footpaths and cycling lanes to allow the option of walking or cycling the less than 6km journey safely.

‘‘These families are effectively trapped in their estates with the inability to actively travel into school or town,’’ Mrs Ujimoto said.

‘‘Many of these challenges are noted in the draft active transport document from Campaspe Shire and we’re pleased to be working with council in responding to it.’’

The draft active transport strategy was developed by analysing local demographic data along with on-site observations, community meetings, drop-in sessions and the use of the interactive mapping tool, CrowdSpot.

Research also found a quarter of Campaspe residents live less than 2.5km from their workplace and almost half live less than 5km. Despite these large numbers of people, 92 per cent still choose to drive their car to work.

‘‘Individual locations will be identified through the next stage of the process, developing an action plan to deliver the objectives of the strategy,’’ Campaspe Shire recreation and open spaces co-ordinator Kerrie Hawkes said.

‘‘The key focus will be on school routes as well as town centres, as these locations are where people use active transport and the most benefit will be achieved.

‘‘Infrastructure such as improved crossings and the development of a more integrated walking and cycling network are key initiatives of the strategy.

‘‘This is a long-term strategy originally set at 10 years. Actions developed to achieve the strategy will be short, medium and long-term.’’

People have until 4pm on Friday, May 24 to comment on the strategy which is available on council’s website and customer service centres.

Any Echuca residents are welcome to sign up to ATEEG via Facebook or email [email protected]