I’ll always remember a day in 2000 or 2001 when I walked my then-first grader to Central School. Actually, it’s what happened as I walked home that’s significant.
After I’d dropped off my son, I walked home with a friend, chatting as I pushed my toddler in his stroller. We stopped at the intersection of Burlington and Longcommon, made sure that traffic had stopped and that it was safe to walk, and set off through the intersection. And then we got publicly chastised by the adult crossing guard for crossing without her.
I bristled, but later realized that gratitude was probably a more appropriate reaction. The crossing guard was doing a crack job of keeping my son and his schoolmates safe as they walked to and from school. No one-child or adult alike-entered that intersection without her consent, thanks to her single-minded determination. Her authoritative stance, decisive strides across all lanes, and firm eye contact with drivers showed that she took her job seriously. Thank goodness.
This devotion and professionalism are what the children and neighbors of Ames Elementary School need now. The notoriously congested Central/Hauser campus on Woodside Road is no longer the district’s only traffic hotspot. Head toward Ames on any weekday morning between 8 am and 8:25 a.m., and you’ll be treated to comparable traffic craziness.
Congestion near Ames has steadily increased over the past five years and now clogs parts of Nuttall, Southcote, Repton and Loudon roads. It’s no wonder-the school’s enrollment has literally doubled in that time, up to 280 children, with 320 projected for next year. And, given that Nuttall Road is a feeder street, most of the north-south traffic, moving well above the speed limit and ignoring the crosswalk lines, isn’t even associated with the school.
For years, Ames used fifth-grade crossing guards to man the crosswalk on Repton Road at the east end of the school and the Nuttall Road crosswalk at the school’s western border. This spring, Ames Principal Colleen Lieggi was forced to suspend the program after two children and at least one parent were reportedly nearly run down by aggressive drivers.
While her action was correct, it leaves a concerning vacuum. Parents must cross their own children, or choose to let them cross alone, hoping that no harm will befall them on their way to school.
When available, a uniformed Riverside police officer has cruised the area at school dismissal. But the officers don’t cross the students or issue tickets for moving violations near school property, though perhaps the cruiser’s presence encourages better driving behavior. And when the officer is called to an emergency, as has happened, his speedy departure itself adds a hazard. Surely this approach is piecemeal at best and an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars.
According to a recent report in the Landmark, District 96 has begun working with a traffic consultant to identify and solve traffic safety hazards near each of the district’s school buildings. Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson has said that he expects the consultant to recommend a variety of solutions. Possibilities include capital improvements, improved safety gear, flashing stop signs and working with the Village of Riverside to improve signage or alter traffic flow near the schools at certain times of day.
There’s much wisdom in taking such a broad, multi-pronged approach. Congestion at all District 96 schools will likely continue to worsen, at least until enrollment peaks in five or six years. But Ames students, parents, staff and neighbors are being exposed to unnecessary risk right now. While no one would advocate adding stopgap safety measures carelessly, it’s hard to see how any observer could argue against the immediate hiring of adult crossing guards for Ames.
The current arrangement calls for District 96 and the Village of Riverside to split the $9,000 per guard per year cost evenly. As a taxpayer, I appreciate this system’s built-in checks and balances, but I’m concerned that one entity or the other could stonewall the Ames PTA’s very reasonable petition to add paid crossing guards.
Add in the fact that Ames draws half its student body from North Riverside, and we’ve suddenly got yet another entity to which the proverbial buck could be passed. As an Ames parent, I encourage the village trustees and District 96 board members to act now to keep the Ames community safe.