Gov. Jim Doyle announced Tuesday the state will be giving Wisconsin communities grants totaling more than $6 million to help pay for projects to make intersections safer for children who walk or bike to school.

The funds come as part of the Safe Routes to School program, which will provide grants to over 44 communities, according to the governor’s office.

The program is intended to increase the number of students in kindergarten through eighth grade who walk to school while also decreasing traffic and air pollution.

Communities can use the funds for projects such as multi-use trails, bike racks, sidewalk improvements and bike and pedestrian education, according to the governor’s office.

Police departments will also use the funds to purchase equipment such as radar and to step up enforcement of speed limits in school districts, said Renee Callaway of the Department of Transportation.

“We want to make sure kids have a safe way to get to school and are on the right track to being healthy adults,” Doyle said in a statement. “The Safe Routes to School program also has the great side effects of decreasing traffic congestion and keeping our air clean.”

The state’s transportation secretary needs to approve community projects before they receive the grants based on recommendations from a selection committee, Callaway said.

According to Callaway, Communities will have to pay for the projects up front, but the state will reimburse them.

DOT has distributed roughly $14 million in federal funds for projects that make biking and walking to school safer and more appealing to students since 2007, according to the governor’s office.

Michael Apple, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin, said in an e-mail child safety is an important issue because of past incidents of children being hurt or killed while going to school.

“Unfortunately, all too many drivers ignore school crossing signs and guards,” Apple said. “There have been numerous cases of children being badly injured – and sometimes killed – because of inattentive drivers or drivers who see no need to slow down when in a school zone.”

Schools may have to redesign traffic patterns and student drop off areas schools to prevent accidents, like the recent injuries and deaths of children who have been hit by cars directly in front of schools, Apple said.

For Madison Public School students, the money will help to improve pedestrian safety, according to Ken Syke, a spokesperson for the Madison Metropolitan School District.

Pedestrian safety at Madison schools is always a priority, and the goal of the school district is to become as safe as possible, Syke said.

Although some may argue the importance of school transportation is eclipsed by more immediate issues, Apple said it is still a pressing issue.

“The realities of poverty, of job loss, of underfunding, of increased class sizes, of the need for more community involvement – all of these things may be more crucial,” Apple said. “But even with these, school safety is not insignificant.”