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Through safety education and community outreach,
DART lays the groundwork for its expansion
With the start of construction in the Deep Ellum district, on the eastern edge of downtown Dallas, DART is ramping up its public outreach and safety education programs to help keep resident families, schools and business owners in the know.
As construction began this summer, DART rolled out a new safety education program for schools and recreation centers up and down the new rail corridors.
"Wherever there's a construction site, kids are tempted to play around it," says Jessica Lennon, DART's supervisor of Educational Outreach. "Our safety message is 'stay away from railroad tracks and construction areas' – but we try to put it out there in a way that's engaging and entertaining." Accordingly, parts of the safety program include trivia quizzes and other game-like components.
Each session, Lennon notes, is tailored specifically for the group to which it's presented. However, the core information is the same – kids learn which part of the neighborhood construction will be in; where they'll be able to go on the new line once it's running; and basic transit etiquette.
"The DART Safely education program gives children critical exposure to skills that can serve them well for a long time to come," says Nanette Week-Watt, principal of the Phyllis Wheatley Learning Center. "It arms them with the knowledge they need to be self-sufficient and make smart decisions when they're around a construction site or using transit in general."
DART is also reaching local kids through the media. The agency has used radio ads placed during kids' programming – and featuring the voice of Radio Disney personality Jay Benson – to put out the DART Safely message. The ads also promote more in-depth events, such as a recent series of safety presentations at the Juanita J. Craft, Larry Johnson and Exline recreation centers.
As construction takes place over the next several years, DART Community Affairs staff will keep the lines of communication open in the affected neighborhoods. Agency representatives will be attending PTA meetings, senior health fairs, homeowners' and business association meetings, as well as neighborhood carnivals and the like, to maintain a community presence, to provide periodic updates and to get feedback about construction activities, traffic disruptions and other issues.
DART conducted more than 125 community meetings in preparation for the expansion – an interactive process that helped determine everything from station alignments to the art and design elements that make each station a unique neighborhood asset. Community Affairs staff has also undertaken informal outreach efforts, as when DART representatives recently went from store to store, visiting merchants in Carrollton's town square – the site of a DART Rail station on the Green Line.
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