Pedestrian safety for students a topic of concern

Pedestrian safety for students a topic of concern
With increased traffic in the San Marco community, City and Duval County Public School District members, as well as parents, urge motorists to heed street signage and always be aware of pedestrians, particularly children on their way to and from school. Photo by Michele Leivas.

Growth brings more traffic and distracted drivers

When the new school year began, San Marco resident Dale Farrow walked with his sixth grader to make sure he and his friend knew how to approach crossing the busy streets, particular Atlantic Boulevard, to get to Landon Middle School.

He did that for three weeks and spoke with the boys about always being cautious and alert when-ever they are about to step off the sidewalk and into a crosswalk.

“I’ve made sure to talk to them about when they approach the crosswalk to make sure their heads are up, they make eye contact with the cars before they step onto the street and make sure the cars were completely stopped before they step out,” he explained. “It’s really the first lane stepping out and then the last lane as you approach the other side of the street because that fourth lane — their vision is blocked by the third lane and so they really — if there’s a kid crossing in front of the car in the third lane, the fourth lane really can’t see the kids so that’s really the terrifying spot and the most concerning spot for me.”

Still, Farrow is one of several parties concerned about pedestrian — specifically children — safety on the increasingly busier streets of San Marco when it comes to middle schoolers walking to and from school.

San Marco has experienced tremendous growth recently and will continue to do so as new residential and business construction wraps up. While it is an exciting time for the San Marco community, the increased traffic and new traffic patterns have already raised concerns about this issue.

Earlier this year, a child was struck by a vehicle returning to the school building from PE class. Fortunately, only mild injuries were sustained, but it served to underscore the very real issue surrounding pedestrian safety.

In previous years, the School Resource Officer (SRO) assigned to Landon had been able to act as a crossing guard during pick-up and drop-off hours, helping to direct traffic and monitor children as they crossed Atlantic Boulevard, explained Duval County Public School Board Member Cindy Pearson. Following the passage of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act last year, however, the SRO is required by law to be at the school “bell to bell,” she said.

“Officer Jackson was phenomenal in handling car traffic and student traffic so there was a police officer there crossing students and feeding cars into line managing the car line,” Pearson said. “That’s gone away. He has to be in front of the school now. We have tried to contract with JSO [Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office] to get an off-duty officer and no one, to my knowledge, picked up the off-duty overtime and even if they did, we couldn’t afford it longterm.”

Pearson and Landon Middle School Principal Ryan Casey were able to arrange for a second officer to come monitor the traffic and aid with children crossing Atlantic during the first two weeks of school while the SRO remained on campus as required.

Parents like Farrow would like to see a crossing guard back at Atlantic, although that is part of a larger conversation between DCPS and JSO. Crossing guards are only provided for elementary schools. Pearson said she has inquired about an exception for Landon but is “still waiting to hear back on that.”

To help remedy the situation, Pearson has been working with the City of Jacksonville to improve pedestrian visibility for cars and raise motorist awareness of the heavy foot traffic, particularly in the morning and afternoon.

To that end, City Council Member At-Large Matt Carlucci joined with District 5 Council Member LeAnna Cumber and arranged three public meetings to discuss the Landon Middle School Traffic Study. Pearson was part of these meetings, as were Landon Middle School Principal Ryan Casey, other city representatives and Landon parents.

sign reading "Push button to turn on warning lights"

Through the conversations at those meetings, several safety features have been added along the streets surrounding Landon: Eight new crosswalks have been installed, including the two on Atlantic Boulevard with Rectangular Rapid-Flashing Beacons (RRFB): These are the signs that allow pedestrians to push a button and trigger flashing lights to alert and stop motorists before crossing. Crosswalks were also added to Minerva Avenue and Arcadia Place with static crossing signs (without flashers). Additionally, Carlucci said, the speed limit on the streets going in and out of Landon’s campus have been lowered from 30 miles per hour to 20.

Alterations have also been made to the traffic lights themselves at the intersection of Hendricks and Atlantic, Carlucci added.

“They [traffic engineers] changed the timing on some of the lights there at Atlantic and Hendricks to help the flow of traffic as well to make for a safer environment,” he said, “cause that left-hand lane on Atlantic going straight, you have to make a left there so they let that light be green a little longer so that traffic can move itself out of there.”

After the RRFBs were installed, Pearson said, the City also extended the amount of time they flash to allow children more time to safely cross and while they are effective, Pearson said a large part of the problem is motorists may not always think to look specifically for children when they see the flashers activated.

“I’d really like the community to retrain themselves to look for those flashing lights and stop and understand that in order for that light to be flashing, someone had to push that button and that someone could be an eleven-year-old student who’s not as tall as an adult,” she said.

Farrow added another issue is motorists “just blowing through those crossings.”

The discussion surrounding pedestrian safety will continue to evolve as the community does, but Pearson, Carlucci and Farrow all urge motorists to remain alert behind the wheel and always watch for pedestrians.

“We’re all guilty of being distracted drivers,” Carlucci said, “but when you get into an area like that, put the phone down and drive. Pay attention, read the signs [and] look for the flashers. Look for the crosswalks. They’re there for a reason.”

By Michele Leivas
Resident Community News

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