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Wauwatosa parents brainstorm solutions to school traffic challenges

Madison Elementary, Center Street schools pose hazards

An unidentified Wauwatosa West High School student walks through traffic congestion in front of the school in the 11400 block of West Center Street in December.

An unidentified Wauwatosa West High School student walks through traffic congestion in front of the school in the 11400 block of West Center Street in December. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Feb. 5, 2013

Cars and kids walking to school are a dangerous combination, and this is particularly true at Madison Elementary School and along Center Street, where Whitman Middle School, Tosa West High School and Eisenhower Elementary are lined up in a row.

At a public forum held at the high school last week, parents, teachers, city officials and school administrators heard a presentation on problems and solutions, offering some of their own.

Conflict areas

Madison Elementary sits at the corner of busy 100th Street and West Glendale Avenue, just south of Hampton. Kenneth Voigt, of consultant Ayres Associates, said in a study of Madison student pickup and drop-off periods, "we saw lot of conflict areas where there was a potential for a child to get hit."

High traffic volume, high speeds, children leaving cars and crossing streets and even students crossing at the crosswalks on Glendale and 100th all are potential hazards.

Parents themselves also present a danger, he said.

"Parents are very singular-focused in picking up their child," he said. They tend to concentrate on their child making it to the safety of the car, unaware of the other kids that are coming and going around them.

"I don't know if you know this - it's the Indy 500 going through there," said Terry Krueger, who lives at 101st and Glendale and whose granddaughter comes and goes to school from her house.

She said she once saw a crossing guard almost get hit.

"They do not respect even the crossing guard," she said.

Limited parking

The city has posted no parking signs on the south side of Glendale - the side closest to the school.

"Where is it we can park to go get our children?" parent Beth Nortrup asked,

Of course, while it is understandable for parents like Nortrup to escort their children inside - especially small children with a lot to carry - this is also part of the problem, in that their cars take up valuable spots for longer periods, Voigt noted.

Early arrivals also complicate the problem.

"People are getting there at quarter to three" - 45 minutes early - and when Nortrup came that early one day, she said "I was like the 15th car."

Alternatives

Along 100th Street, parents petitioned the city to post "hug and go" signs for those dropping off students. When the city refused, they started a program in which the school custodian put up temporary signs that say that every morning, parent Jason Kauflin said.

Kauflin said it would help to have a sidewalk on the far side of 100th Street, to encourage students and parents to walk to the corner, instead of crossing in the middle of the block. A line of mature trees on that side that might have to come down would draw hearty resistance from homeowners, he noted.

Voigt said that a similar problem in Brookfield was solved by a meandering, asphalt-trail-like walkway, instead of a straight concrete sidewalk.

"It's a little easier to sell," he said.

Even teachers find parking a problem, said teacher Laurie Benz. She said the parking lot is dark by the time some teachers leave, and she and others have noted malingerers there. Some teachers park on the far side of 100th Street, but then again, it's a walk alone in the dark with no one around.

Alderman Don Birschel suggested enlarging the parking lot, accessed off Glendale, to make pickup and drop off there easier. He and others suggested a specially built, one-way drop-off loop that extended from and returned to an expanded parking lot.

Voigt said the study made several suggested improvements, including allowing children to enter from multiple points - not simply the playground entrance, as is currently the case - and using more cones and better pavement markings at crosswalks.

"There's no magic pill that guarantees this is 100 percent safe," Voigt said. "All we can do is minimize the chance that a child will get hurt."

Center Street

Center Street and the schools that line it pose some of the same problems that are seen at Madison, only multiplied. With school start and end times staggered by 10 minutes at the schools - Eisenhower, Tosa West and Whitman - a little pressure is alleviated, but still Voigt said researchers saw parents double-parked, dropping off students in live lanes of traffic; students in the side streets south of the school walking in the middle of the road; kids crossing in the middle of a busy block, instead of at a crosswalk and other frightening practices.

Part of the problem is that there are no marked places to stand, or gather, on the south side of Center Street - no sidewalks, no corner pads, nowhere to be but in the road or on somebody's lawn.

An unintended benefit of the area is the crush of traffic at drop off and pickup times.

"It's my opinion that having traffic slow-moving in a school zone is good," he said.

Voigt reacted with a lack of enthusiasm at the idea that a pedestrian bridge over Center Street might make things safer. A bridge built in Madison, he said, went largely unused, as it was a steep climb and more effort than simply scampering across the street.

"It's human nature," he said.

Similarly, tunnels under the street are expensive, dark and prone to criminal enterprises, he said.

Voigt cited the three E's of improving school traffic problems: education, engineering - creating traffic islands and redesigning streets, for example - and enforcement. While police can't forever monitor traffic behavior, random spot checks can be effective, he said.

Resident Mark Ryder noted that there is a narrow frontage road that leads from the northwest corner of the Eisenhower parking lot to North 117th Street, and that this might be a way to create a one-way pickup loop.

Alderman Jeff Roznowski said the Safe Routes to School program, begun at McKinley Elementary, had been awarded resources to study safe alternative transportation routes - biking and walking - to cross busy Mayfair Road and Center Street to allow more kids to get to school without riding in a car.

Voigt said that flashing "speed feedback" signs are "amazingly effective," but of course they cost $6,000 each.

"Everything costs," Birchel said, "but what's a child's life worth?"

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