Sidewalks and signals part of Safe Route to Schools upgrades

By Lara Patangan
Resident Community News

While traffic patterns continue to evolve with the redevelopment of San Marco Square, the Overland Bridge Project and the tentative construction of the East San Marco development, pedestrian safety for neighborhood school children remains a driving focus as components of the Safe Route to Schools initiative are implemented into current infrastructure.
Safe Route to Schools is a federally funded effort to increase pedestrian safety while encouraging children to walk and bicycle to school. The national program was signed into law in 2005, dedicating $612 million to safety projects across the country.

Locally, the Florida Department of Transportation carries out the project by improving crosswalks, fixing, adding or connecting sidewalks, adjusting the timing of lights and utilizing street signage. The City of Jacksonville is responsible for necessary maintenance.

San Marco resident and District 3 Duval County School Board Member Ashley Smith Juarez said the program is an important way to for students to travel safely to school while incorporating physical activity into their daily routine.

“Integrated physical activity is important to student health today and to habits that will serve for a lifetime. I appreciate the community’s efforts to promote this opportunity,” said Smith Juarez. “I encourage children and their families to choose at least one day a week that they walk or bike to school even if the bus or carpool is available.”
Valerie Feinberg, a San Marco resident instrumental in getting funding approved by the FDOT, is encouraged that pedestrian safety has taken many steps in the right direction and thinks that as traffic patterns continue to adapt there will be “unintended consequences both good and bad.”

Feinberg said there would undoubtedly be an increase in traffic as a result of the proposed East San Marco development, which is positioned across the street from the popular magnet school, Julia Landon College Preparatory and Leadership Development School.

“East San Marco will have a big impact on traffic. Sometimes behavior adapts to what’s going on so if [motorists] don’t want to be slowed down by children and schools they may choose to avoid the area,” Feinberg explained. “We don’t know yet what all the positive and negative consequences will be.”

While at this point there are no plans for the developers of East San Marco to be involved in the Safe Route to Schools initiative, the area on Atlantic Boulevard is already a concern for pedestrian safety as some children try to walk and bike to school as their classmates’ parents slowly wind through snake-like carpool lines, and commuters merge to avoid the
congestion.

“If you look at current traffic, you have a police officer trying to manage traffic,” said Feinberg. “So we already see that it’s an issue.”

DCPS needs to join conversation

District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer observed that working with Duval County Public Schools on making changes to the current carpool lanes at Landon Middle School may be part of the solution.

“If it’s possible that it would have a relief on the traffic impact then we need to have the conversation,” said Boyer. “There is an array of things that can be done, but they could further back up traffic down Atlantic or increase cut-through traffic. There are consequences everywhere.”

Andrew Dickson, San Marco Preservation Society Traffic Safety Chair, said much of what is being done as part of the Safe Route to Schools Initiative, which encompasses an area from Mitchell Avenue to La Salle Street, is already underway.

Specifically, the construction of new sidewalks on Mitchell Avenue to Arcadia Place; on La Salle Street between Hendricks Avenue and San Marco Boulevard; on Landon Avenue on the school side of Hendricks Avenue and on Thacker Avenue between Landon Middle School and the San Marco Library.
Construction is expected to be complete by mid-summer.

“One thing that is great about it, is that we are finally filling in the gaps in the sidewalks in San Marco,” said Dickson. “It is all part of a general movement in San Marco to make it pedestrian-friendly through street design.”

In addition to the sidewalks, pedestrian signal upgrades will be located at the intersections of Hendricks Avenue with LaSalle Street, Landon Avenue, Atlantic Boulevard and San Marco Boulevard.

While Dickson said he would have liked to see a crosswalk on Atlantic Boulevard around Minerva Avenue or Mango Place, it’s currently not part of the school-safety initiative.
Still, if the Publix ever materializes as part of the East San Marco project, he believes it will attract students from Landon Middle School to the supermarket, which then requires a tenuous trek across Atlantic Boulevard.

While still conceptual, local planners and bicycle advocates are considering ramifications to implementing design elements similar to those used in San Marco Square, including on-street parking and crosswalks to manage existing traffic and any that is sure to ensue with the development of East San Marco.
“When there is development, there is a lot more activity and a lot more potential conflicts between pedestrians and cars,” said Dickson. “One thing we should look at whether or not East San Marco materializes is extending the design of the Square down Atlantic Boulevard.”

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