Safe Routes plan fails to impress

By Lynn R. Parks

Seaford School Board president Mike Kraft wasn't much more impressed by the state's plan to make Stein Highway in front of the middle school safer for pedestrians than members of the city council were when they heard the plan two weeks ago.

I struggle with this," Kraft said at Tuesday night's school board workshop. Delaware Department of Transportation project planner Sarah Coakley told the school board that the state is suggesting putting a row of shrubs in the center lane of Stein Highway to discourage middle school students from jaywalking and my money says that they're just going to jump over it," Kraft added.

That was the same concern that Mayor David Genshaw expressed after the plan was presented to the city. He worried that it might become a game with the children, to see who could run across the highway and jump over the shrubs.

Coakley is pedestrian coordinator for DelDOT, as well as the agency's coordinator for the federal Safe Routes to School program. That program has ended. But she said that some money remains in the state coffers that could pay for this project.

Alternatively, the state could put crosswalks in at the intersection of Virginia Avenue and Bridgeville Highway, another area that is used by student pedestrians and that becomes congested after school dismissal. The Safe Routes to School program allows for one project per school, to cost no more than $125,000.

Susan Messick, transportation specialist for the school district, contacted DelDOT to ask for help in making Stein Highway safer for middle school students. While the school has a crossing guard at the corner of Stein Highway and Market Street, there is no one farther east on Stein Highway to help the students cross the road. The school has an arrangement with the Seaford Police Department to have an officer there when available, Messick told the board. But that happens only 30 to 40 percent of the time, she added.

Stein Highway in front of the school has four lanes of traffic and a center turn lane that can be used by cars going in either direction. The speed limit is 30 miles per hour.

In the past three years, there have been 17 accidents there, including one in which a walking student was hit and injured.

Coakley said that children walk from the school to School Lane, then cut diagonally across the highway to get to the Family Dollar store at the corner of Stein Highway and Front Street.

She said that when she has observed dismissal time at the school, she has seen children playing chicken with traffic and just goofing off" in the middle turn lane.

The state is proposing putting a thick row of bushes in part of the center turn lane. The bushes would start at School Lane and go east to just past Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.

Beyond that, running toward Front Street, would be a mountable median." While the median, just a couple of inches high, could be crossed by cars, it would serve to slow drivers down, Coakley said. In addition, it would give students some place to stand if they found themselves in the middle of the road waiting for traffic.

The plan does not include anything west of School Lane, directly in front of the school. It would be ideal to run the shrubbery buffer all the way up to the light at Market Street, Coakley said. But the need for a middle turn lane at that intersection makes that impossible.

The shrub row would contain two types of bushes, a higher-growing one down the center and lower-growing ones on either side. They would be drought tolerant and once established, would need no watering or trimming.

The city would be responsible for replacing the bushes should a bush die or be hit by a car. At its Sept. 23 meeting, the city council tabled a vote on whether to agree to do that. Messick urged school board members to talk to city council members, to encourage them to support the plan.

This is a potentially bad situation," Messick told the school board. If we can do anything to slow traffic down, something that DelDOT says that this will do, that would be a huge factor in keeping our children safe."

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