Time short to push for safety zone

By Steve Estes

The conversation has finally begun as a school year readies to draw to a close and now it’s time for our elected officials to more forcefully ask the state Department of Transportation to take another look at installing a school zone marker on Big Pine in front of the Big Pine Academy.

We all thought that something along those lines would be done when the state spent mega-millions to widen US 1 through the island. The school was there, it was growing, and if pedestrian safety is a top priority, this was a no brainer.

Apparently it wasn’t such an easy thing to discern.

FDOT has said repeatedly that it won’t install a crosswalk at the location because it doesn’t want to encourage folks shepherding small children to cross in the middle of a throughway, preferring that they cross at the pedestrian light at the intersection of Key Deer Blvd. and US 1.

We can easily understand that sentiment.

But installing school zone markers that tell people to slow down at the entrance to the school and watch for young children walking or biking alongside the road seems something quite easy and quite necessary.

Slowing traffic at that junction would also aid traffic flow to allow those transporting students to enter and exit the school grounds, and might eventually put an end to the potential for rear-end collisions that exists every day school is in session.

The small charter school has grown from a few dozen students to nearly 200. The number of vehicles entering the school grounds has tripled and since there is limited bus service, most transport is done by individual cars.

Every one of those cars is carrying something very precious…our future.

Our elected officials have often tossed their collective weight behind turn lanes for large commercial enterprises, the reconfiguring of ingress and egress lanes for commercial centers that front the highway, and safety striping where needed.

It’s time our elected leadership tosses its collective weight behind a safety measure that makes a lot of sense.

It might cost a few hundred bucks to paint the school zone signs on the roadway and a few hundred bucks to purchase and install the school zone signs that would be needed.

Those are all expenses that can’t be weighed at all against a possible injury to a child who uses the school and becomes the victim of a vehicle traveling at least 35 miles per hour, probably 45 miles per hour.

Slower traffic would open up more opportunities for necessary left-hand turns since more than 65 percent of Big Pine’s population lives down Key Deer Blvd. in some fashion. And slower speeds would help control the near collisions that arise when northbound traffic attempts to use the scramble lane to turn left and the southbound traffic attempts to use the same lane to get kids to school.

It would also seem imperative that our Sheriff’s Department make it a point to be on station every day when students arrive and leave to make sure that folks coming from both directions are at least adhering to the posted speed limits and not blasting through a school zone at rates 10 to 15 miles per hour above the posted limit.

Of course, we might negate the need for a posted sheriff’s deputy if the state would simply spend a thousand bucks or so painting lines on the street and installing some minimal signage.

There is no guarantee that the school won’t continue to grow, as charter schools have been increasing in population compared to regular public schools, even though the Academy is supposed to be limited in growth by an agreement with the state.

And the more vehicles that are poured into that single lane of entry off US 1, the more chance for a serious collision that harms one of our children.

So lets get some effort behind the notion that safety really should come first and petition our state DOT to do the safe thing and install a school zone in front of the charter school.

A new school year starts sooner than we want it to. Time’s a wasting.

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