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School District, City Should Publicly Discuss School Zone Safety Measures

A school zone speed limit sign posted near Ring Elementary School. The Jamestown City Council discussed earlier this week if the speed limit around Ring Elementary School and Washington Middle School should change several times even though the two schools are only a little more than a half a mile apart. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

It was interesting to see Dr. Kevin Whitaker’s response when asked his thoughts on school zone safety.

City officials have talked about the issue off and on over the past year. Mayor Eddie Sundquist favors speed zone cameras for school zones. City Council members also recently discussed signs that at least one city resident thinks are confusing between Ring Elementary and Washington Middle School on Buffalo Street.

Whitaker hasn’t seen a rampant disregard for school zone safety, though he isn’t going to turn away any idea, including speed zone cameras, that could increase student safety. We can’t blame him for that. But Whitaker placed emphasis on educating the public about school zone safety more than just once a year. That’s a point on which we couldn’t agree more with Whitaker, because not all school zone issues can be fixed with speed cameras or by changing signs.

Parents stopping to let off a child in the middle of a busy street is as big a safety hazard as someone speeding in a school zone, for example. Persell Middle School can be a mess, and the issue at Baker Street and Hazeltine Avenue isn’t simply a speed issue. A flashing yellow light means students can’t stop traffic to cross Baker Street if they’re walking across the street. It’s not uncommon to see cars backed up on waiting to get into the Baker Street drop-off area or for children to be dashing between cars as they cross Hazeltine Avenue from a business parking lot to the school because parents need a place to unload their children. The area near Jamestown High School has similarly been difficult in the past. Perhaps some of the school parking lots could be made safer if it wasn’t so easy for some people to park in areas that decrease visibility or that go against the ideal traffic flow of the parking lot.

It’s funny that a massive community survey process was launched to discuss spending federal stimulus funding, but there is little coordination when it comes to keeping school zones safe for children. This is as good a time as any to launch an effort that both educates the public about how their behavior makes school zones unsafe and allows parents to work with the school district and the city to shape a school zone safety structure that works for parents, drivers and children. Discuss the issue publicly during either a City Council or school board meeting. Even better, have the meeting attended by both the mayor and school district officials so that everyone involved is in the same room.

Look at everything from top to bottom — signs, lights, cameras in select areas if needed, crossing guards and parking lot layout. Things may be adequate now, but it seems there is consensus around the idea it could be better. Let’s fix the problem now, then, and be done with it.

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