One month ago a 12-year-old girl was hospitalized after being struck by a car in front of Turlock Junior High School. She had darted into traffic and didn’t see the car coming toward her. The driver was not cited and the unfortunate incident was simply an accident. According to Turlock Unified School District officials, the girl is now recovering well.
While that particular incident was an accident, it brought traffic safety near schools back to the forefront for TUSD officials, parents and students.
“The students safety during drop-off and dismissal times is something that I’m concerned about, I worry about it every day,” said Osborn Two-Way Academy Principal Ed Ewing.
Turlock has many older neighborhoods with older schools. Unfortunately, older schools were not built with sufficient parking for today’s needs. In addition, streets were not built as wide as is needed today in some neighborhoods.
Crowell Elementary School Principal Linda Alaniz said the traffic problems around her school —located on the corner of Geer Road and North Avenue — aren’t anyone’s fault.
“I think it’s just because our town has grown around the school. Fifty years ago when the school was built this was in the country, but with more people comes busier streets,” she said.
In order to prevent as many accidents as possible, the TUSD and school principals have a working relationship with the Turlock Police Department to help enforce traffic laws around schools during drop-off and release times.
“We are in the third year of a partnership with Turlock Police and they have been helpful to us with patrol and monitoring of traffic. The problem is there aren’t a lot of places to park around the older schools and a lot of people are in a big hurry for various reasons,” said TUSD Superintendent Sonny Da Marto.
At Cunningham Elementary, traffic problems were a major concern for Principal Al Silveira. He met with Turlock Police for suggestions on how to slow cars down and create a safer traffic pattern.
“Turlock Police suggested we put a no parking zone along Linwood Avenue across from us. Then we put in a fence and a new traffic pattern where parents have to pull in our parking lot. It really is a safer, more organized way for parents to pick up their kids,” said Silveira. “The vast majority of parents follow the rules and are respectful and cautious, but with anything there are those few that create problems.”
Problems are not limited to new schools. Silveira was the former principal at Medeiros Elementary and he helped design the school parking lot — complete with two entrances and two exits with more than 80 parking spots.
“Even then the architect told me that once you get cars and people in there it will come to a stop and he was right,” said Silveira.
Cunningham, along with other district schools, sent letters home informing parents of traffic rules and patterns around the campus.
Wakefield Elementary — located on South Avenue — instituted a traffic pattern last year for parents to drop off in the back of the campus.
“We don’t have as much traffic as some of the other schools because a lot of our students walk to school, but yes moving the drop off and pick up locations to the back of the school has limited the amount of cars that stop in the middle of the road in the front and the side of the school,” said Principal Aaron Mello.
It appears as if there is no clear cut way to solve traffic safety around schools but Da Marto said simply paying attention and following rules can help.
“Have kids use the crosswalk, look both ways and people driving around school areas just need to pay attention, slow down and be careful,” he said.
TUSD schools are staffed with paid crossing guards who, along with Turlock Police, help students safely cross the street. While increasing crossing guards would undoubtedly help improve traffic safety, budget restrictions prohibit additional staffing.
“It is a hard situation to come up with an answer for. I think the main thing is that everyone needs to follow the rules, don’t stop your car in the middle of the road to pick up or drop off, to me that is the scariest things some people do,” said Ewing.
Perhaps the best solution is friendly reminders from the Turlock Police Department.
“Whenever they come and remind people about driving around schools the traffic gets better for awhile but then eventually it goes back to the way it was. The Turlock PD can’t be everywhere al l the time,” said Ewing.
To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.