On just about on any weekday it is an all too familiar sight– bumper-to-bumper traffic surrounding our local school. Children cannot drive yet they contribute remarkably to local traffic congestion because most of their parents drop them off at school by car. The comparatively few children that do walk, bicycle, or take transit are put at risk by street designs that promotes driving children to school. Wide streets, high speed limits, and poor pedestrian infrastructure all signal to parents that their children are better off being driven to school, even when a family might live within walking distance from school.
Unless this is a status quo we are satisfied with, something needs to change. But where do we start? No public school in Eagle Rock is as pedestrian hostile as Delevan Elementary, as it sits immediately adjacent to a freeway on and off-ramp. If there is consensus to start where there is the greatest need, maybe it should be here.
What Delevan Elementary (and every other school in the area) needs, are “safe routes to school.” What does this mean? It means that, for example, if one lives within a mile of their local school that there should be safe, pleasant, and convenient infrastructure provided to walk and bicycle there. This is intended to not only make it safer, but to also promote walking and bicycling as a common-sense choice for those fortunate enough to live close to school.
Often times it is not sufficient for there simply to be sidewalks and crosswalks. If a kid still has to cross 100 feet of asphalt just to get to the other side of the street it does not matter if a crosswalk is provided, there is too much exposure to potential danger for any parent to feel comfortable letting their children walk to school. Similarly, it does not matter if the speed limit is 25 miles per hour when drivers are capable of far exceeding this speed.
What would conditions that promote walking and bicycling to school look like for Delevan Elementary? Below is a sampling of some potential solutions:
Have the intersection of Wawona St and Ave 42 go from this…
Difficult-to-see crosswalks, minimal curbcuts, wide crossing distance, and little greenery.
Shorter crossing distance, more visible crosswalks, added greenery, and additional curb cuts.
And what if the existing pedestrian overpass went from this…
Narrow, poorly lit, and closed-in.
…to something more like this…
Wide with separate bicycle and pedestrian space, well-lit and more open feel.
Perhaps the freeway on-ramp outside of the school could be made more pedestrian friendly by consolidating the two entrance points and reducing the exposure to traffic entering the freeway. This would also force drivers to slow down before entering the freeway and improve visibility of those crossing. It would go from this….
Two entrances to the freeway make crossing here as a pedestrian unsettling and unsafe.
Closing one entrance and replacing it with a sidewalk will reduce exposure to traffic entering the freeway. Having freeway-bound traffic cross at a perpendicular angle will improve visibility of pedestrians and require traffic to slow down (rather than speed up) before getting onto the on-ramp.
Of course, while wider sidewalks, better crossings, and more pleasant overpasses are well worth their investment, not everything need be so elaborate either.
What if we simply got rid of signs placed literally in the middle of the sidewalk? Just outside of Delevan Elementary a “no parking” sign obstructs the sidewalk while a “stop ahead is placed to the well outside of the usable sidewalk space. From this…
These are just some ideas of varying intensities that could improve conditions for walking to Delevan Elementary but there are surely many other ways we can make safe and pleasant conditions for children walking or bicycling to school. Even if it does not make morning traffic magically disappear, it will at least give families a viable option, and make it safer for those that make the socially responsible, as well as healthy, choice of walking and bicycling.