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Monday, February 06, 2023

Alachua County to evaluate school crosswalk after parent concern

Area had 13 crashes in 5 years

<p>Kanapaha student crosses a sidewalk at the intersection of Tower Road and the entrance of Kanapaha Middle School Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023.</p>

Kanapaha student crosses a sidewalk at the intersection of Tower Road and the entrance of Kanapaha Middle School Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023.

Seven cars drove through the intersection of Tower Road and Southwest 51st Boulevard before April Hulbert, her husband and her two children could cross. 

“Still waiting,” she said.

The Hulberts are a five-minute bike ride from Kimball Wiles Elementary School, but the couple rides with their children — not for exercise, but for safety.

The intersection near Kimball Wiles is one crosswalk at the center of the Alachua County Public Works Department’s research on crashes in the area. In the past five years, there have been 13 crashes within 200 feet of the corner — two of which involved crosswalks or pedestrians, said Thomas Strom, transportation engineering manager.

Because of Hulbert’s concern, the department will evaluate the intersection for two to three weeks, looking at nearby traffic signs and sight distance. Depending on the findings of the evaluation, pavement markings may be redone or more signs or a flashing beacon may be added.

“It just becomes so disturbing and alarming,” said Hulbert, 40. “I'm like, ‘Are you asking that someone has to die first before you handle this matter?’”

The evaluation hasn’t been scheduled yet but will take place during school hours, Strom said. Because the crosswalk is near two school zones, the department plans to evaluate the area during both of the schools’ peak hours when most people will be on the road.

Though Strom receives five to 10 crosswalk-related concerns a year, he said, Hulbert’s is the second he’s received this month. 

“Typically, when schools start to get back in session, more folks get on the roads,” Strom said. “So, we do seem to get more requests and calls during those times.”

While crossing Hipp Way to get to his bus stop near Criswell Park, a 5-year-old was killed Jan. 20.

The crosswalk that will be evaluated is near both Wiles and Kanapaha Middle School. While a crossing guard is present for Kanapaha’s hours, there isn’t one there during Wiles’, Hulbert said. 

Staffing in law enforcement is an issue itself, said Art Forgey, an Alachua County Sheriff’s Office public information officer. But adding another crossing guard would be a budgetary issue.

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Some parents, like Kimberly Griffin, a 51-year-old retired Air Force officer, are concerned about students who stay after school for clubs. 

Twice a week, Griffin walks to pick up her son from his extracurricular at Wiles. Despite having the right of way at the crosswalk, she said, many drivers don’t yield. 

“I don’t know if they’re going to see a little fourth grader, third grader [or] first grader trying to cross that road,” she said.

Rose Gleichowski, a health coach and mother of two students at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, has enforced a different route for her family for 20 years to avoid the traffic by Wiles and Kanapaha: going out from 91st Street to Archer Road. 

That way, her teenage drivers can avoid the two-school zone area. Because the schools have different hours, she said, it’s difficult to determine when the school zone hours are in place.

Walking or biking to schools like Wiles or Kanapaha should be encouraged more when it’s safe to do so, Gleichowski said. But if her children were in those schools now, she said, she would have to walk or bike with them.

“I don't know that we're doing anything to increase the safety except people screaming and yelling,” she said. “But it doesn't seem like anything is actually being done about it.”

Each year, the county’s public works department looks to install two new flashing beacons, Strom said. Most often, the department looks for locations close to parks, bus stops and schools.

“I would think that [the crosswalk] would be a good candidate,” Strom said, “but as far as saying that we have plans to do it at that particular location at this time, I really wouldn’t be able to.”

Besides the intersection of Tower Road and Southwest 51st Boulevard, parents like Hulbert are also worried about traffic situations in nearby neighborhoods. Her kids bike through one community where drivers have to inch out over the crosswalk to leave, and most times, she said, drivers ignore the stop sign.

“It seems that these people from the neighborhood — even though they see all these children around at this time — somehow they're kind of unaware,” she said.

In 2019, when Melissa Hamilton’s son was 12 years old, he was hit by an SUV while biking to Kanapaha along 91st Street and 46th Boulevard. 

Hamilton’s son was with two other friends when a driver in the intersection waved the children onto the road. Her son led the way — he was halfway through the crosswalk, Hamilton said, when another driver hit the back of his bike, sending him flying. The two other boys weren’t hit, and Hamilton’s son didn’t sustain any major injuries. 

“For a little while they had a sheriff in his car parked out there,” Hamilton said, “just to scare drivers and let them know, ‘Oh there’s a cop present, so I should follow the traffic laws.’”

But that was never a constant, she said.

In an effort to effect change, Hulbert said, she asked ACSO for police presence to return, but it hasn’t happened yet. 

“My children should be able to ride their bicycles less than a half a mile to their school safely,” she said. “But they really aren't.”

Contact Lauren at lbrensel@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenBrensel.

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Lauren Brensel

Lauren Brensel is a journalism sophomore and a metro reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she's found going on mental health walks, being silly with friends, hiding from the public and reminding those around her that they did this song on Glee.


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