May/June 1999, p.13

Bronx Study Tours Reveal Threats to Kids

Parents hold court with Bronx Commissioner, James Kilkenny, on the Steps of P.S. 62 during the March 10th Safe Routes to School Study Tour.On Wednesday, April 21st, Transportation Alternatives organized the second and final Safe Routes to School study tour of the 1998-1999 school year. The first study tour took place on March 10th. Joining T.A.'s Safe Routes to School staff was consulting engineer Georges Jacquemart and representatives from the City and State Departments of Transportation and the Police Department. Tour participants were together to evaluate conditions along the main walking routes to 12 Bronx schools and recommend traffic calming improvements. A special briefing book for the tour identified recurrent problem locations on primary walking routes. Safe Routes gathered together NYSDOT accident data and the experiences of each school community to determine the most hazardous spots.

Three hazards emerged as common to all 12 schools. The first was very wide streets. Many streets that children cross on their journey to school were designed and built much wider than what traffic needs dictate. These wide streets are dangerous - encouraging speeding and high-speed turns - and, of course, they take longer for pedestrians to cross.

Safe Routes to School Program Coordinator, Ellen Cavanagh, and Community Affairs Officer Guadelupe talk traffic at P.S. 95 during the Safe Routes to School Study Tour on April 21.Another safety problem encountered was that cars parked next to pedestrian crossings end up blocking oncoming drivers' view of pedestrians entering the crosswalk, especially when the pedestrian is a child under 3 feet tall. When the parked vehicle is a van or an SUV, taller children are affected as well. Similarly, children must venture far out into an intersection to see past the adjacent parked vehicles.

Finally, at many schools crossing guards were absent because of sickness or maternity leave, and these guards were not replaced by substitutes. There is currently no set policy for providing a substitute for a crossing guard who is absent. This issue must be addressed by the Police Department. Without crossing guards, children are left to make dangerous crossings alone. Yet with traffic calming improvements these intersections would become safer, 24 hours a day, with or without guards.

For several months before the tour, the Parents' Associations of the participating schools met and formed traffic safety committees, distributed and collected route survey maps on which parents marked their children's routes and problem locations, handed out safety information, organized Walking School Buses, and encouraged other parents to get involved. (Parents, along with principals and district managers, also turned out to greet the study tour at each stop.)

The tour represents a unique collaborative effort between The Bronx Borough President's office, T.A., parents' associations, community groups, school administrators, community boards, the City DOT, the State DOT, elected representatives, the NYPD and private sector engineers.

Safe Routes to School is preparing the final reports for each tour and will soon present the recommendations to the schools, community boards, elected officials and the DOT for comment.

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