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Going back to school - safely

City, schools cooperate on improvements to roads, sidewalks around schools to improve student safety


Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - A new traffic light, crosswalk controls and other improvements are slated for the intersection of Rosemont Road and Santa Anita Drive. Getting to school will be a little safer for students at three West Linn schools this year, thanks to safety improvements undertaken over the summer by the city and the school district.

The most visible project is one being directed and paid for by the city, with students and parents at Rosemont Ridge Middle School being the ones who will benefit from it most directly. The new traffic light being installed at the intersection of Rosemont Road and Santa Anita Drive will replace the blinking red lights signaling a four-way stop.

The crosswalks across the intersection will have push button-activated pedestrian signals, including countdown meters to guide students and other pedestrians safely across the busy streets. However, delays in the construction schedule mean that although traffic disruptions and major construction will cease before the start of the school year Sept. 2, the traffic signal will not be fully functional for the first couple weeks of school.

“We were planning on a couple weeks of road closure,” the city’s public works director, Lance Calvert, said. “We’re burying most of the utility lines, and there were some issues with PGE and some unknowns until the locates were done.”

Those issues resulted in an extra week of closure for the busy intersection.

“We anticipate that the mast arms will be up, but the signal will not be activated” when school resumes, Calvert said.

He predicted that the lights at the intersection would still be flashing reds for the first couple weeks of school. That will give parents and neighborhood residents a chance to adjust to the traffic control change.

Drivers who have been inconvenienced by construction delays in the area may be cheered by another improvement coming to the area: flashing school zone signs that will be activated during the times when students are in transit. In other words, no more school zone speed limit of 20 miles per hour from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on school days.

“That was kind of a big complaint,” school district director of operations Tim Woodley added.

“Now we’ll have the flashers in place, so it will be during those drop off and pick up times,” Calvert said.

Woodley has a special message for Rosemont students.

“Both the city and the school district encourage students to use the crosswalks. Please,” he said.

Crosswalk visibility, drop-off areas at WLHS

Another safety improvement, this one at West Linn High School, also increases student safety and improves traffic flow. For years, parents have struggled to find a safe, easily accessible spot to drop off students at the high school. Starting this school year, clearly marked drop off zones on both Skyline Drive at the side of the school and along A Street right in front will offer convenient and, more important, safe areas for parents to let students out of cars.

“It’s a major metro high school, in a confined space,” Woodley said. “The high school is a historic setting. We’ve added onsite parking, but parent drop off has been difficult.”

The school district hired a traffic engineer to assess the situation at WLHS. That’s the first step in any road project, for both the school district and the city. The traffic engineer identified the best places to add drop zones, with the least impact on existing parking. Woodley estimated that no more than 10 parking spots were eliminated, and he emphasized that the area in front of the school will be closed to parking only during high-traffic times, and not during after-hours events.

“We had close coordination to maximize pickup and drop-off availability as well as parking ability,” Calvert said. “It’s very logical.”

“There will be some signs there,” Woodley said. “Read the signs. ...They’ll pick up on it very quickly.”

Other safety improvements at the high school arose from the work done last summer on school parking lots. Traffic flow into and out of the new lots created new traffic patterns that compromised pedestrian safety. In response, the school district installed new crosswalk signs, flashing markers and what Woodley called “very identifiable crosswalks and striping” to enhance pedestrian safety.

The school district is footing the bill for the improvements at the high school, using funds left from the parking lot budget. The funds were included as part of the school district’s 2008 capital improvement bond.

“It’s our frontage and it’s our responsibility,” Woodley said.

‘Safe routes’ to Bolton

The third project has been in the works the longest, and it’s one that required cooperation and coordination between the city and the school district. As required by state law, the school district has been working for several years on a project known as Safe Routes to School, reviewing walking boundaries and ensuring safe routes to schools.

Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Among the improvements at Bolton Primary School are sidewalks added along Holmes Street and a drop-off zone for students.

“Bolton Primary presented a unique challenge since it was an older school in a very established neighborhood and is the only school in the district with no perimeter sidewalks, crosswalks or bus/parent drop-off zones to safely direct and move students from the surrounding neighborhood to the entry doors,” Woodley said in a letter to the community dated Aug. 6.

The project was made more complex because it involved both city- and school-owned properties identified as needing safety improvements. Having identified the need, the school district coordinated with the city, and a city engineer served as a liaison to the school district. Again, hiring a traffic engineer was one of the first steps.

“You need the backing of a professional in the field, to make sure we’re being good stewards of public funds,” Calvert said.

After the traffic engineer’s report was received, leaders in the city and the school district began coordinating efforts.

“The district and the city interact with that report and formally accept it and make sure it’s consistent,” Woodley said. “It’s all regulated, and it has to be reviewed. It all takes time — we have to play by the rules. We’ve been very diligent about moving it forward. This has been one of the best cooperative efforts with the city. The neighborhoods just now see it, because it’s construction.”

“The goal is always to be in front of any issues. That’s certainly the case with all these (projects),” Calvert said.

The work around Bolton may seem like one project, but it’s actually two. The school district hired a contractor to perform work on the school property and directly in front of it; the city worked with a different contractor to fill in the missing pieces to connect the new sidewalks to existing ones.

“The school district had a need. We didn’t want their work to stop at the edge of the property and then have a gap,” Calvert said.

Both parts of the projects are expected to be mostly completed before school starts, despite a few unexpectedly rainy days that slowed construction.

“It’s complex work, out in the streets. It’s all about public safety,” Woodley said. “It’s a big deal. Coordinating with the city is important. The coordination we have done is remarkable, from the city council and the school district administrators on down.”

“I’ve been with the city a couple years now,” Calvert said. “The coordination and the goodwill with the city and the school district, we do a good job of coordinating and working well to use resources to provide for citizens.”



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