With children back at school, motorists advised to slow down, be alert

With children back at school, motorists advised to slow down, be alert
Pat Bridgeman ferries students from Hendricks Avenue Elementary across busy Hendricks Avenue after school.

On the surface it seems to be an easy job requiring little more than wearing a safety vest, pressing the walk button on a traffic light, and holding up a paddle to stop traffic. But the role of school crossing guard is not for sissies – just ask Patricia Bridgeman.

The longtime San Marco resident said she has had many strange encounters with traffic during the nine years she has manned her post in front of Hendricks Avenue Elementary School. With school starting August 13, she reminds drivers not to speed and to pay close attention when they enter school zones, especially on Hendricks Avenue, which may be the busiest road in San Marco.

“Motorists need to be aware that children are fixing to cross once the light changes to red,” she said. “Drivers need to pay attention because a lot of times they are watching the light and not watching me and the children. Kids are kids, and they’ll drag their feet and sometimes it takes them forever to cross the street. Often I see cars fixing to come on and the kids haven’t finished crossing yet.”

For the next six months, children who traverse Hendricks Avenue to get to HAE need to be extra careful due to road construction in front of the school, Bridgeman said. The construction area, which is littered with orange markers, can be confusing to drivers, presenting a more dangerous situation than normal, she said.

It is the Florida Department of Trans-portation’s plan to have the repaving project complete and the road restriped with two traffic lanes, a dedicated bike lane and on-street parking in both directions by December, said FDOT Spokesperson Sara Pleasants. To establish a work zone so the medians could be narrowed, traffic has been shifted to the outer edges of the roadway, eliminating on-street parking in the area, she said.

While Pat Bridgeman holds up traffic in the northbound lanes of Hendricks, children still run across the southbound lanes making for a potentially dangerous situation.

While Pat Bridgeman holds up traffic in the northbound lanes of Hendricks, children still run across the southbound lanes making for a potentially dangerous situation.

This means that speeding cars fly past Bridgeman and her young charges within a foot of the curb, she said.

“We’ve lost the distance of a parking space between us and the cars, making it easier for the kids to [inadvertently] step out into traffic,” she said. “I think they [FDOT] have made it worse in front of the school. They don’t have any parking anymore where they used to have extra parking,” she said, adding the present lack of on-street parking makes it difficult for her to find parking close to her post so she can use her car as shelter in case of a thunderstorm.

To help keep kids safe while they are waiting to cross the street, Bridgeman advises parents to share the following tips with their children: 1) No playing around. 2) No goofing off. 3) No running around when standing with the crossing guard. “If they are not paying attention, they could step out in traffic, which is whizzing by only a foot away from the curb,” she said. “We have a lot of speeding along here, especially in the afternoon. When the kids are released from school early, people are usually flying through here.”

Bridgeman also cautions that the same laws which govern cars on the roadway apply to bicyclists as well. “Bicycles need to follow the same regulations vehicles have, and some bikes don’t think they need to stop when I am crossing the children,” she said.

Because Hendricks Avenue is a divided highway, normally two crossing guards are assigned to see children make their way across both the northbound and southbound lanes. However, often on Hendricks only Bridgeman is available, and things can get dicey, especially if the light changes before all the children have made their way across, she said.

“When we have only one crossing guard, I work both sides. When I take the children over there, I still must come back to my post. If the light changes while I am coming back,  I can be caught and have had to blow my whistle to get the cars to stop,” she said.

Over the years, Bridgeman said she has suffered many close calls, mainly from distracted motorists focused on cell phones or texting.

“People are looking at their cell phones and talking and not really paying attention. I’ve almost gotten hit more than once because of it. They can be stopped but take their foot off the brake because they are so interested in their phones, and the cars gradually move further and further up while I’m trying to bring the children across,” she said. “The next thing I know is I have a car right there, and it’s a little close for comfort.”

And the hardest part of the job is staying alert herself. “You need to be paying attention all the time. You can’t be lackadaisical or be daydreaming. You need to keep your eyes roaming and be aware. When you have bumper-to-bumper traffic, it can be hard to find a gap, so you can stop them,” she said.

But the job of crossing guard has an upside, too. The best part is getting to know the parents and children and watching them grow, Bridgeman said. One time, when she was absent for an extended period with a broken ankle, a parent arrived at her door with flowers, indicating that she was missed.

“The parents are all wonderful people, and it’s amazing to watch the children grow. I have 11 grandchildren, so I appreciate the different ages and stages they go through,” she said.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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