News

Dangerous walking

By P. CHRISTINE SMITH

Staff reporter

If motorists could rear-end two big, yellow, flashing Oak Harbor School District buses in two days, imagine what could happen to a child walking along a roadway.

That’s the message some parents are trying to get out, and a team of decision-makers made up of district and city officials are poised to help.

Parents, Oak Harbor School District operations people, the transportation director, City of Oak Harbor planners and engineers, and Oak Harbor Police Department are teaming up to keep students as safe as possible while walking to and from school.

“I think everybody is concerned,” Kim Page, parent and Broad View PTA president, said Monday. “I think we need to work together.”

Students who live within a one-mile radius of their schools do not receive school bus transportation this year unless the area through which they must walk is designated as hazardous.

Teams of people are working diligently to figure out what makes an area hazardous, what to do when an area seems hazardous but really doesn’t meet the criteria, and how to mitigate both scenarios.

“My participation in the committee is really because the engineering staff of the city are reporting...to my department at this point,” Steve Powers, director of development services for the city, said. “Pedestrian solutions would be based on engineering analysis.”

Each suspected hazardous walking area must be examined for two sets of solutions, operational and physical, Powers said. In some cases a potentially dangerous situation might be mitigated by changing procedure and other times, physical corrections, such as crosswalks, signs and flashing lights might be necessary.

Powers said his department’s participation doesn’t necessarily indicate that the city will be responsible for fixing any physical problems.

“It’s a school district process that the city has been asked to participate in,” Powers said.

For mitigation of physical problems, such as the installation of crosswalks or sidewalks, it is unclear which entity would pay for the projects.

“I don’t believe there’s an answer to that question at this point,” Powers said.

Representatives of the various agencies met twice last week at school district offices, first in a private meeting and then at a public meeting.

“I became aware that there are more people than just me concerned,” Vonnie Edwards, director of transportation of the school district, said.

“I hope there will be a follow-up meeting,” Edwards said. “It’s a beginning.”

Edwards said she is concerned about the speed limit and the lack of a school zone on Heller Road in front of Hillcrest Elementary School. The stretch of Heller between Whidbey Avenue and NW Second Street is a 35 to 40 mph zone, and there is no crosswalk at Heller and NW Second.

Still students, even high schoolers walking down NW Second Avenue from the high school toward Heller Road, cross Heller illegally. One parent witnessed two high schoolers nearly get hit at the intersection on Sept. 11.

Georgianna Jensen, the mother of a fourth-grader at Hillcrest Elementary School, was on Heller Road that day, walking to Hillcrest to pick up her son. Watching the high schoolers nearly get hit by a car, and seeing other situations that she describes as “dangerous” involving elementary school students, prompted Jensen to create a petition, signed by about 150 parents. Jensen presented copies of that petition, asking for a reduced speed limit on Heller Road by the elementary school during the times of day students are going to and from school.

Page went to the public meeting with three distinct messages for the officials, she said. First, as Broad View PTA president, she acts as an advocate for all parents and children at the school. Broad View students, dispersed throughout the district’s other five elementary schools this year while the Broad View campus is remodeled, are walking to other nearby schools.

Second, Page asked Police Chief Steve Almon to contact Broad View teachers whose classes are housed in portables by the old district office on Midway Boulevard. Those teachers can give Almon valuable information about their experiences crossing their students on Midway Boulevard, Page said. This information can be used to understand other main road crossings.

Thirdly, Page said she asked the police department if perhaps the Citizens on Patrol volunteers can patrol the are of Hillcrest Elementary school, taking down the plate numbers of traffic violators.

However, Capt. Rick Wallace of the Oak Harbor Police Department said that the police department has to look at the hard data. The last accident study performed on the area of Heller and NW Second didn’t indicate that it was a high accident location. He understands the parents’ concerns, he said, and the police department will help in any way possible as resources permit.

“It was a productive preliminary meeting,” Wallace said. “In the process of that, if there are any dangerous walking conditions, the city can take action.”

Patrol officers have been assigned to the high school and two middle schools between 7 and 8 a.m. “for years,” Wallace said, and between 8 and 9 a.m. at the elementary schools “the best they can.”

Wallace is pleased that Almon and he were able to attend the public meeting, because it is important for the police department to know “people’s perceptions of safety,” in order to help determine possible courses of action.

The school district has formed a Safe Walking Appeals Committee, to which parents can apply for the reconsideration of whether or not a walking area is safe. The committee is made up of a community member who is an attorney, a police officer, a school district safety officer, a member of the Oak Harbor city traffic planning department, a school district transportation department member, and two parents.

Another area about which parents are reportedly also concerned includes Loerland Drive, which is curvy and hilly. Students living in the Highlands West and Shannon Forest subdivisions walk on Loerland to go to Hillcrest Elementary School.

“I’m concerned about Loerland,” Page said. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen about that.”

Jensen’s petition included reducing the speed limit on Loerland, as well, at times when children are walking to and from school.

In the meantime, parents and students continue to walk in designated walking areas. Parents ask motorists to keep alert when driving on streets and in neighborhoods around schools, even if there are no official school zone, speed limit or signage.

“There’s a lot of parents that have concerns,” Jensen said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at csmith@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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