The following was submitted to city council, the chief of police and the city manager on 10-16-08:
I appreciate that Chief Beams has responded to citizen concerns over the crosswalk at the high school and civic center. I understand that the time has been lengthened for the school zone and that the crossing guard’s hours have been extended. However, after standing out there with her yesterday, I realized just how dangerous her situation was and that these measures do not even come close to correcting the matter.
During the hour after school let out, the entire area was in complete chaos and posed an extreme danger to every pedestrian and motorist who passed through. The number of children who cross at this crosswalk is much greater than even I suspected. I couldn’t count them all but it easily exceeded 50, reaching possibly 75, students. To their credit, these kids were very attentive and respectful of our crossing guard and of traffic. Until as late as 1 hour and 10 minutes after school dismissal, children crossed both to and from the civic center. At the same time, a large volume of motorists were attempting to exit the school into the 4 lanes of Turnpike traffic while some motorists were trying to enter the high school parking lot. Furthermore, the number of cars exceeding the speed limit of 20mph (which was in effect until at least 2:30 yesterday) was incalculable. Rhonda told me that things actually weren’t nearly as chaotic as they normally are (between 2:50-4:00) since it was a Wednesday with earlier dismissal than the 3:30 plant employee release.
Because of the design of this area, the volume of pedestrian and motorist traffic and because there is no traffic signal, motorists exiting the school must wait a good while to merge onto the Turnpike. Most of the time, they have to rely on the courtesy of drivers and pedestrians before doing so. The high level of uncertainty and ambiguity undoubtedly contributes to an overall anxiety by drivers who often make risky (and many times illegal) moves to get out.
There was a police officer in the area – at first stationed facing oncoming traffic and later patrolling the area. In our discussion he told me that he had not heard of the bill recently passed into law that “requires the driver of a motor vehicle in a marked school zone when warning flashers are in operation to stop to yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk: the driver must remain stopped until the pedestrian has crossed the roadway on which the vehicle has stopped – Amends TCA Title 55, Chapter 8, Part 1
Nearly every time the crossing guard assisted children across this street, I observed cars from both the high school exit as well as in all 4 lanes of the Turnpike driving through the crosswalk while she and the children were still in it. Many times these cars came within only a few feet of them.
A Tale of Two Crossing Guards
I went by and talked with the OR Hwy Karns crossing guard today. The situation there is similar to ours in that there is a major thoroughfare next to a middle and elementary school and is heavily travelled by not only local traffic, but many non-residents as well. There are also 3 major school exits that feed onto OR Hwy. The similarities end there. They have a pedestrian bridge that is used by about 40 children in the mornings and afternoons. Ironically, no children actually cross OR Hwy yet they have a crossing guard who has a very well lit stop sign, wears a police uniform and has the word “Sheriff” emblazoned on her neon yellow vest. Actually, she’s not a crossing guard, rather a safety officer. The difference is that she is empowered to direct traffic and is bonded by the sheriff’s department. Another major difference in their situation is that where we have four lanes of traffic with a center turn lane, they only have two. They obviously have a dangerous situation, but it is much less severe in design and flow and is alleviated with greater precautionary measures.
The Karns safety officer is somewhat aware of our situation and offered some excellent suggestions. Most immediately, she said that we should get a police officer out there every day to both scan for speeders and assist with traffic flow. She also said that because we have four lanes, it is impossible for one crossing guard to safely and effectively assist the children. She recommended a second crossing guard (to remain on the opposite side of the roadway) to assist with crossing the children.
I understand that our city engineer and chief of police have seen the situation first hand. What, if any, other recommendations do they have? Have any of the following been considered?
1. A control mechanism, be it a police officer or red light, is desperately needed to address the traffic flow issues inherent to the design of this intersection.
2. Visibility for the crossing guard must be increased so that cars on the opposite side of the street can see her and stop in a safer amount of time. A second crossing guard, larger signage, and a lighted portable stop sign could all be of help.
3. Public awareness of the situation and the law should be paramount – if the police aren’t knowledgeable of the law, how can they begin to educate and enforce?
4. Enforcement of the speed zone and the aforementioned, newly-passed law need to be enforced immediately and consistently
5. During school start and release times, temporarily make the high school Turnpike exit one way for entering traffic only. Exiting traffic could be re-routed to exit only at N. Tulane Ave.