When Puyallup resident Kristen Griffin stood on the corner of 31st Avenue Southeast along Wildwood Park Drive in Puyallup in April, it was a bright, sunny day.
But it was dark and foggy the day she realized the dangers of students crossing the street there.
Three years ago, Griffin was driving when she witnessed kids run across the intersection.
“I was here getting ready to turn and kids jetted out and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ because it’s foggy and you’re not expecting (them to run out) from the woods of all places,” Griffin said.
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Ever since, Griffin said she's encouraged the city and the Puyallup School District to come up with a solution to make the route safer, with little results.
And with the closure of Shaw Road, the area is seeing increased traffic.
“I’m scared to death,” Puyallup resident and parent Heather Cogger said. “Some of these kiddos — it’s a matter of time before someone gets hurt.”
The route in question
Griffin, who has a 14-year-old at Ferrucci, learned shortly after that initial incident in 2015 that the students who ran across the street were Ferrucci Junior High students who lived around Bradley Lake Park and were in the school walking zone, which stretches a mile and a quarter in all directions from the school. Currently, 117 students are within Ferrucci’s walking zone.
Students using this route begin at Pierce College West Access Drive, where there are no sidewalks. Students then cut across a small forested path that leads to Wildwood Park Drive.
“With the homeless situation in Puyallup, the idea that we have kids who are cutting through there and you have no idea who’s in the woods… (that) this is what our district considers a safe route to school just blows my mind,” Griffin said.
“When you get onto Wildwood there’s no crosswalk,” she added. “The road turns and goes downhill so you don't get a clear view of the cars coming south on Wildwood.”
After they cross Wildwood, students complete the rest of their walk through a neighborhood, where sidewalks are accessible.
In 2015, Griffin attended a meeting held by council members that addressed the particular section on Wildwood. But years passed, and nothing was done, Griffin said.
In 2017, the project to close Shaw Road to add a left turn lane meant to ease traffic congestion was delayed to 2018.
“They put off Shaw for a whole year,” Griffin said. “They had plenty of time to build a quarter-of-a-mile long sidewalk before Shaw got shut down. They had plenty of time to address the problems that were going to be created here."
Griffin, who lives in the Larkspur neighborhood on the east side of Ferrucci, is within the school’s walking zone. But as a stay-at-home mom for almost 11 years, she said she has the time to drive her kids to school. But she was concerned about kids whose parents didn’t have the same opportunity.
And she wasn’t alone in her concern.
Cogger waived her daughter, Brynn, from Ferrucci to Aylen Junior High, which is on her way to work in Tacoma. A big part of it was lack of safe walking routes. Cogger and her family live by Bradley Lake.
“Either they have to walk up the shoulders of Wildwood and it's dark and not well lit and there's not a great crossing spot, or they have to walk through our neighborhood and up the road that goes to Pierce Community College, and once they get up that they have to cut through the woods, and there are transients, homeless, coyotes, whatever,” she said. “A good chunk of the year, it’s dark and wet and it’s just not safe."
And now, with Shaw Road closed for construction, traffic along Wildwood Park Drive has worsened, Griffin said.
“The speed limit is 25, but nobody’s doing 25,” she said.
Puyallup police are watching the area closely, especially with the closure of Shaw Road, deputy chief Dave McDonald said.
“We are making sure if they’re using Wildwood Park Drive as detour routes, they’re not speeding on it,” he said.
“I would like to see a safe, well-lit sidewalk with a lighted crosswalk up near Ferrucci,” Cogger said.
“Either that or give us a bus,” Puyallup parent Tera Winkler added.
Students are not instructed to follow specific paths, Puyallup School District transportation director Cathy McDaniel said, but mentioned a possible alternative path for students living on the west side of Ferrucci, which follows north on 7th Street, east on 23rd Avenue and through residential streets. It’s a longer route, but with sidewalks.
Parents are also welcome to submit Bus Stop and Route Change Request forms. So far, eight forms have been submitted for Ferrucci in the 2017-2018 school year. Four of those were for walking-distance students. Of the four, two were accepted with bus stops added near Robins Hollow on 23rd Street. Two requests were denied. For those families, alternate routes were given.
But perhaps the biggest help will come this fall in the form of sidewalks along Wildwood. It will solve part of the problem for students walking to school.
“The sidewalks will begin on 31st Avenue Southeast and extend south the vicinity of Ferrucci Junior High School,” city engineer Hans Hunger said in an email.
Funds to construct a sidewalk at this location were to be received through a Transportation Coordination Committee grant allocated in 2016. The city was notified that the funds wouldn’t be available until 2019, but the city approved to move forward on the project this year, Puyallup public relations officer Brenda Fritsvold said in an email. The city has also put in a sidewalk link south of Ferrucci as part of its Sidewalk Link and Repair Program.
“The City of Puyallup views safe routes to school as an investment in our youth and their safety, and we hope to encourage more students to walk and bike to and from school where safety is not a barrier,” Fritsvold added.
But for parents like Griffin, the wait has been too long.
"This is what they’ve decided to ignore for three years," she said. "I just want all the kids to be safe."