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A back-to-school makeover for Wichita crosswalks

July 25, 2019

KU School of Medicine-Wichita faculty staff paint Wichita school crosswalks

From left to right: Jack Brown, MUA, R.S.; Kelsey Lu, research analyst; and Mason Rohleder, research assistant, all work in the Department of Population Health at KU School of Medicine-Wichita and are seen painting crosswalks at Woodland Elementary School in Wichita.

By Joe Stumpe

Schoolchildren and other pedestrians will tread a little more safely this fall thanks to a volunteer effort spearheaded by a research assistant at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita.

Mason Rohleder, MPH, who works in the Department of Population Health, was looking for a community service project to do for his master's degree when he learned faded paint on crosswalks around Wichita are a big problem. He completed his Master of Public Health in May at KU School of Medicine-Wichita.

A study done for the city's bicycle and pedestrian advisory board "found that 96% of crosswalks in town are dilapidated to the point where they need to be addressed," Rohleder said, noting the study was conducted by one of his KU instructors, Elizabeth Ablah, Ph.D., MPH. The lack of visibility contributes to collisions between vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists.

City of Wichita Public Works & Utilities tries to maintain crosswalks "but there are just so many of these things that they could not possibly have the manpower to do it," Rohleder said.

So, he decided to mobilize volunteer crosswalk painters from the medical school and other local organizations.

"What we can offer them is hands," he said. "If we could get the volunteer capacity up, we could knock out a lot of these." Bike Walk Wichita volunteers help paint Wichita crosswalks

Students and faculty from KU School of Medicine-Wichita have taken part, as have members of Bike Walk Wichita, a local group that promotes nonmotorized transportation in the city. Some volunteers - such as retired KU instructor and Bike Walk Wichita member Barbara Coats, M.D. - have a foot in both groups.

To maximize the work's benefits, Rohleder targeted crosswalks around Wichita elementary schools for repainting. So far, crosswalks around four schools: Kensler, Woodland, Jefferson and Horace Mann Dual Language Magnet, have been refreshed with plans for more in the works.

The painting at each school is done by several teams of three volunteers paired with a city employee. The volunteers go through a 15-minute training session, then don orange vests and hard hats, set out traffic cones and get to work. They're usually able to knock out one school's crosswalks in a morning, even though many people probably don't consider how many crosswalks there typically are around a school - nine at one school alone, Rohleder noted.

"A lot of it is drying time, making sure people are not driving over the wet paint," he said.

The public works department supplies volunteers with a paint designed to be used on asphalt, and finely ground glass recycled from windshields is sprinkled over the paint to make it reflect light. The crosswalks are painted in what's known as the "international style," a series of bars with spaces between them instead of one continuous line. "They really last longer because most of the lines are straddled" by vehicles passing over them, Rohleder said.

Jane Byrnes, a retired dietitian and member of Bike Walk Wichita, helped with the painting around Horace Mann elementary school. She calls Rohleder's project "wonderful," especially since it involved navigating two organizations as large as the city of Wichita and USD 259. "It's a chore to keep up with administratively," she said.

Byrnes said "this grandma" believes all the city's crosswalks should be adequately maintained, since they are one of the key "clues" that let motorists know they are sharing the roadway with pedestrians and bicycles. As for the painting, Byrnes said, "It was actually fun. Maybe each line is not perfectly straight, but it was fun."

Vanessa Martinez, principal at Horace Mann, said volunteers painted crosswalks on Main and Market streets that are used by her students and their parents.

"Oh yes!" she said when asked if she noticed a big before-and-after difference. "They are much more vibrant and you're able to see them more when you're driving."

Martinez noted the school's inner-city location makes the crosswalks especially important.

"Because we're so landlocked, parents (and children) have to park on both sides of the street to get over" to the school, she said. "So it is a necessary crosswalk."

The painting also helps keep people from parking inside a crosswalk, which has been known to happen when the crosswalk is barely visible.

Faarina Kahn, who's studying for her Master of Public Health at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, helped paint crosswalks outside Kensler Elementary in April.

"I've always been fairly active in volunteering," she said. "In general, that just seemed like my kind of thing to do."

She even learned something, saying she hadn't known the application of ground glass "was part of the process."

The current round of crosswalk panting will end in September. Then, Rohleder plans to use the winter to recruit more volunteers and schedule additional school crosswalks for work.

"We're trying to make it into a sustainable long-term project," he said.

How to help

If you're interested in volunteering, the project will continue till the end of September. Please contact Mason Rohleder at 316-293-1853.

Above, from left to right: Bike Walk Wichita volunteers Megan Rittmiller, Barbara Coats, M.D., and Jane Byrnes painted crosswalks by Horace Mann Dual Language Magnet School in Wichita. Dr. Coats is also a KU School of Medicine-Wichita alumna.

KU School of Medicine-Wichita
Last modified: Jul 25, 2019
Media Inquiries:

Belinda Venters

KU School of Medicine–Wichita
Public Affairs
1010 N. Kansas
Wichita, KS, 67214

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