A Framework for Making School Crossings Safer Beyond Louisiana Blvd. and Natalie Ave.

Nobody likes it, not really, when fixes to roadways problems of engineering, education and enforcement (“3Es”) only happen when somebody dies.

I had the chance to attend a meeting yesterday afternoon in which that sentiment was generally shared, even by those who have led the successful effort to have Mayor Tim Keller and City Councilors Diane Gibson and Brad Winter pledge to install a HAWK signal at the intersection of Louisiana Blvd. and Natalie Ave., where 12-year-old Eliza “Justine” Almuina was killed last week while walking in the crosswalk.

Something has to be done at Louisiana and Natalie, and should have been done years ago. Only the most jaded of us would possibly feel otherwise.

  • But what of other APS schools near busy streets with inadequate road engineering?
  • And what does that engineering matter if users, motorists in particular, don’t know or care to use the solutions (e.g., HAWK lights)?
  • And what difference does it all make if there’s no enforcement against the actions of those who don’t care?

As crummy as that crosswalk at Louisiana and Natalie has been for years, the law has always been on the side of the walking user of that and other crosswalks. The reality, in addition to poor engineering, has been that many motorists don’t know or care about the law, particularly when it comes to the perceived 2nd class citizens who walk our roadways, and there’s been scant chance those who don’t know or care will suffer any penalty.

Even when they kill someone.

An entire system of thought and action is broken here, and while a HAWK signal at Louisiana and Natalie is a great idea, that idea will ring hollow and generally unheard if we don’t fix the engineering, education and enforcement mindset and practice elsewhere in town.

Let’s start with the other middle schools. And with the just-announced HAWK solution in mind, let’s start with engineering, noting that changes to a roadway only really work with education and enforcement in tandem.

Here’s a map from APS indicating location of its middle and high schools. The large version is best, but won’t fit here:

aps schoolsbig

Even if you can only squint to see them (again, the big map is best), you can make out a huge number of dangerous intersections. And these are just the middle and high schools, although it is true that these schools tend to be more directly adjacent to roads/stroads with high volume and high speed traffic.

Fixing all of the above is such a daunting, and, let’s admit it, expensive prospect, let’s arbitrarily give ourselves a budget 10x the currently projected cost of the HAWK at Louisiana and Natalie, $3,000,000, and let’s use the following criteria to help determine the first ten places we should install some form of infrastructure, not always a HAWK signal, keeping in mind improvements such as “road diet,” speed humps/bumps, ornate striping, bulb outs, etc.:

  1. Mid-block crossings/intersections: Generally places without signalized crossings where minor streets adjacent to schools cross much busier streets/stroads, similar to Natalie Ave. at Louisiana;
  2. Average Weekday Traffic Counts for the busy street/stroad;
  3. Estimated or actual pedestrian counts at the crossing, keeping in mind that higher levels of danger lead to lower numbers of pedestrians crossing, even when reasons to cross exists, or are higher;
  4. Pedestrian crash rates; and,
  5. History of local resident advocacy for improvements.

So which 10 crossings should get significant forms of roadway improvement?

I must unhappily report that I do not have time this morning to undertake aggregating all the information needed to concoct a priority list of 10 based on the criteria above. Much more happily, I can report that folks at City, County, and MRCOG, in particular, do take the time to create such reports, and are now doing so more than ever.

We need to read and act on these reports. For Eliza “Justine” Almuina and for kids everywhere.

It would be a profound, lasting shame if the memory of those area kids killed crossing a street were memorialized solely by individual improvements, mere infrastructural descansos, at single sites without further commitment and implementation of broader, more system-wide engineering, education, and enforcement efforts across the entire area.

To do so requires many things, including keeping memory of those killed alive far longer, and having the will, money, and foresight in place to anticipate and significantly reduce the chances of those will otherwise be killed in the future.

But we can do that.


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