Education

Kids face enough challenges, getting to school safely should not be one

Students from Mason Middle School in the Proctor district of Tacoma cross Proctor Street in this 2015 file photo.
Students from Mason Middle School in the Proctor district of Tacoma cross Proctor Street in this 2015 file photo. Staff photographer

Lack of sidewalks — and crosswalks. Poor lighting. Speeding cars. Scary people.

Those are some of the obstacles Tacoma kids can encounter if they walk or bike to school, according to those who attended an open house Wednesday night at Lincoln High School. The event was sponsored by the Safe Routes to School program, a project of the city of Tacoma, Tacoma Public Schools and the Puyallup Watershed Initiative.

Wednesday’s meeting was designed to gather public feedback. An online survey is gathering more.

Hannah Day-Kapell, a consultant working with the Safe Routes initiative, said the project is looking for public guidance on how to prioritize solutions to problems.

Among the possibilities people were talking about Wednesday night: safety education for kids, parents and drivers; sidewalk and street improvements; and more traffic enforcement, including the use of school speed zone cameras.

Currently, city engineer Jennifer Kammerzell said, those cameras exist at three of the city’s 57 schools: McCarver and Downing elementary schools, and Stewart Middle School (where students are temporarily absent while the school is under construction).

School Board member Scott Heinze said one idea that’s been discussed is an ordinance to govern the kinds of infrastructure needed around schools, parks and places where kids and families gather.

Gerod Byrd is a staff member at Safe Streets and also a board member of Second Cycle, a nonprofit organization that advocates for cycling and runs a community bike shop in the Hilltop neighborhood.

“We need to change the perception of danger with kids walking to and from school,” he said.

He likes the idea of designating safe routes for kids to walk or bike to school.

Cars zoom by. There are kids walking in the street, dodging cars.

Lynette Scheidt, Eastside Neighborhood Council

“It teaches children early about a healthy lifestyle,” Byrd said. Plus, more people walking or cycling puts more eyes on the street and increases neighborhood safety, he added.

Lincoln sophomore Isaac Barnett stopped in to the open house after returning from a ride with his school bike club.

He used to walk to school but just started riding his bike to school. He usually feels safe.

But he did have one close call: “The guy was turning left and I guess he didn’t see me. I noticed him before he noticed me, so I stopped.”

Lynette Scheidt, who chairs the Eastside Neighborhood Council, said there are streets in her neighborhood without curbs or sidewalks. In bad weather, that means kids either walk in the mud or in the street.

“Cars zoom by,” she said. “There are kids walking in the street, dodging cars.”

Complicating traffic problems, she said, is the closure of the McKinley Avenue bridge over Interstate 5 during freeway construction. Traffic on residential streets has increased as drivers try to find a way around the marked detour routes, she added.

And elsewhere in the neighborhood, infrastructure that was meant to help is sometimes misplaced, she believes. Scheidt pointed to Blix Elementary on busy East 38th Street, where a crosswalk is located at the nearby intersection of East L Street. But Scheidt would like to see one directly in front of the school, which is in the middle of the block, where kids would be more likely to use it.

Rachel Cardwell lives near Point Defiance Elementary in Tacoma’s West End. But like many parents in the city, she has opted for another neighborhood school, Geiger Montessori. So, under the school district’s school choice option, she’s responsible for transportation. Cardwell drives her child to school. But she came to Wednesday’s meeting because she sees the potential benefit of making the city more walkable.

“It’s an opportunity to engage with the city and with each other,” she said. “To get back to a sense of community, to feel responsible for each other. This can be a platform for neighbors to come out of their houses and talk to each other.”

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635, @DebbieCafazzo

Voice your opinion

The Safe Routes to School initiative wants to hear from you. There’s an online survey at surveymonkey.com/r/TAC-SRTS.

It’s in six languages: English, Spanish, Khmer, Korean, Russian and Vietnamese.

For more information: Call 253-591-5511 or e-mail saferoutestoschool@cityoftacoma.org

Safety tips

For drivers

  • Most schools have designated areas and rules for student drop-off and pickup. If you don’t know them, ask. Then follow them.
  • Slow down in school zones.
  • Keep an eye out for kids. Stop for pedestrians in crosswalks and at unmarked intersections.
  • Don’t text or make calls while driving.

For walkers

  • If it’s dark, wear bright colors or reflectors.
  • Look before you cross the street. Look left, right and left again.
  • Make eye contact with drivers before stepping into the street.
  • Use the crosswalk or cross at the corner.
  • If your school has a crossing guard, follow the guard’s lead.

For cyclists

  • Wear a helmet. It’s the law. Make sure it fits and isn’t cracked or broken.
  • When riding on the street, ride on the right in the same direction as traffic.
  • Don’t assume drivers see you, especially when entering or crossing a street. Make eye contact with drivers before you cross.
  • Watch for opening car doors and cars turning across your path.
  • Ride in a straight line. Signal your moves.

SOURCE: Safe Routes to School

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