|Prescott Principal, city address pedestrian safety
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
Prescott Elementary School Principal Michael Lopes would like to see more of his students walking to school. He would also like those who do walk to get there safely. If there were reasons why they cant do so, he would like to fix those reasons.
|Prescott Elementary Principal Michael Lopes at one of the meeting to discuss unsafe routes his students navigate on their way to school.
|MEMO PHOTO: TIM CURRAN
City officials share Lopes sentiments. They have made Prescott Elementary School one of eight Portland schools in a pilot program called Safe Routes to School. City and school officials work with parents and community leaders to increase the number of students walking and biking to school.
To begin with, they encourage this activity. Volunteers from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance conduct a weekly Walk and Bike Wednesday to encourage the practice, and they have helped the school conduct bicycle and pedestrian safety classes. Lopes estimates that from 175 to 200 of the schools 345 students walk or bike.
Many more would, he thinks, if there were a way to do so safely. Barriers are a lack of sidewalks and reckless high-speed driving. Because of these factors, Lopes said, Some parents would rather put their kids in the car and drive two blocks than have them walk.
In December he assembled a group of parents and conducted a walkabout, a walking tour of the immediate area to identify hazards. Also present were City Traffic Engineer Scott Battson, and Dakota Inyoswan and Anna Scalera of the Safe Routes to School program. Among other concerns, they found dangerous speeding on Northeast 102nd, 105th and 112th Avenues, as well as Prescott and Wygant Streets; hazardous parking congestion near the school; dangerous crossing points, particularly on 102nd at Prescott and Wygant; bad and inconvenient bike storage facilities; and a lack of sidewalks or even safe pedestrian places throughout the neighborhood.
In some cases, Lopes told the Parkrose Neighborhood Association last month, the average speed of all vehicles using these streets is five miles an hour or more above the posted speed limit.
To address such issues, the Safe Routes to School program allocates $25,000 to $35,000 for each participating school. In addition, under a new subsidized purchase program, the city agreed recently to pay 60 percent of the cost of speed bumps on local streets if adjacent property owners are willing to pay the remaining costs, and the city has deemed speed bumps warranted. The Prescott Safe Routes to School program identified several locations for such devices.
At the Parkrose meeting Jim Karlock, a Beaumont neighborhood community activist who is a strong critic of traffic calming, asked, What problem are we trying to solve here? How often is this an issue on local streets? He charged that each speed bump can delay emergency vehicles by as much as 10 seconds, and that this is a bigger hazard than what they are being asked to solve.
Lopes replied, I dont want to base it on statistics. In addition to several near misses, he said, one student was hit and seriously injured near Northeast 102nd Avenue and Wygant Street. It was not a fatality, but it was a pretty devastating experience for the child and the family, Lopes said. We want to create a safe pedestrian environment.
Parkrose resident Brian Walker thanked Lopes for this stance. Ive been waiting to pick a dead kid off the hill on 105th, he said, due to the high speeds and poor visibility. Why do we have to wait for someone to die before we do something?
Former PNA Chair Ron Nelson said that as far as he could see, the problem was that too many children are walking in the roadway. This is because there is no safe place for them to walk, due to a lack of sidewalks and because the space nearest the private property is taken up with parked cars, he said. Parkrose School Superintendent Michael Taylor added that in some cases, because of poor drainage, walking areas are flooded; this is a factor when he decides to close schools for inclement weather.
Lopes conceded the point. He added that the program budget is not a whole lot of money in view of the cost of most solutions. Speed bumps cost about $2,000 apiece, so they are not what were recommending, he said. As for sidewalks, he said, I had no idea how much sidewalks cost until I got involved. The cost, in fact, is $100 per lineal foot for sidewalks of average width meeting city standards.
A program volunteer, Jonah Smith, has identified a way to create serviceable sidewalks using gravel rather than asphalt for $10 per lineal foot, Lopes said. He is considering using these.
Walker wondered, If you spend money on asphalt sidewalks, will the city assume that you dont need anything else? He noted that Commissioner Sam Adams, who is in charge of the Portland Office of Transportation, is interested in creating new sidewalks.
Lopes replied, The whole issue of sidewalks is complex. (Despite Adams interest) Theres no indication that the city will be coming forward with huge sidewalk-building proposals. The message is, Get what you can. The issue is: what can the school do in the short term to create better access routes for kids? Right now its dangerous for both kids and their families. We want to put something in that will last a long time and is easy to maintain. To the extent possible, he hoped to use donated materials and labor, he said.
Parkrose resident Jim Akers said, The biggest nuisance is parked cars; that means we have to walk in the streets to get around them. Id love to have sidewalks, but short of that we should be able to walk by the side of the road. Lopes said that in some places the city may post no parking signs for this purpose.
Regarding the parking congestion at the school, Nelson said that a big part of the problem is teachers parking there all day. Lopes acknowledged this. Possible solutions include finding another place for teacher parking, such as the Mount Hood Community College parking lot, reducing the size of the on-street bus loading zoning, and assigning parents to specific points for picking up or dropping off children based on the childs age, he said.
City engineers have proposed installing new pedestrian crossings, with an island in the middle of the street, on Northeast Skidmore and Wygant streets at 102nd Avenue. Once again, cost is a problem: crosswalks cost $2,000 apiece, and pedestrian islands $10,000.
The program report noted that the schools current bike storage area is on the east side of the building in an inconvenient location, not readily visible and therefore vulnerable to theft, and exposed to the rain. Students might be more likely to ride their bikes if the facilities were better, it was suggested.
Lopes hopes to put forward a specific set of recommendations, and to schedule a public meeting to explain and discuss them. Although a specific time had not been set at press time, he said likely dates were the evenings of either May 29 or June 6.