Nationwide, schools of all grades, levels and sizes are installing programs and pushing for legislation to encourage students to walk to school.
At Leesville, however, dangerous traffic patterns and undermarked intersections seem intent on making pedestrian travel obsolete.
“There’s definitely a lack of crosswalks,” says Ryan Quinn, junior, with an emphatic chuckle. “When crossing the road, I’m usually thinking, ‘Please don’t hit me!’”
Quinn, a cross country runner, is one of many Leesville athletes and nearby students who experience the flaws of Leesville’s lacking transportation infrastructure every single day. The Leesville-O’Neal stoplight and Leesville-Country Trl. intersection each boast a whopping zero crosswalks. Meanwhile, the intersections of O’Neal Rd. with the student parking driveway and the unnamed street provide just a mere one.
The number of students walking or biking to and from school has dropped from 50 percent to 15 percent over the past 40 years, according to a New York Times report, even as gas prices have increased from $0.33 to $3.69 a gallon. Why? Many believe it could be the lack of sidewalk and crosswalk upkeep and installation around schools.
Fortunately, the city government is beginning to look for a solution to Leesville’s problem.
Jennifer Baldwin, Bicycle & Pedestrian Coordinator for the City of Raleigh, confirmed that the newly-formed Leesville Community Safety Taskforce will apply for a Safe Routes to School grant from the North Carolina Dept. of Transportation. Wake Forest Elementary and Wake Forest-Rolesville Middle recently received one (to the tune of $300,000) that will be used for building new sidewalks, bike racks and vehicle radar trackers; the Leesville community now hopes to do the same.
“This grant [would] allow us to fill in missing sidewalk sections, add new bicycle infrastructure and improve safety at intersections,” wrote Baldwin via email. “The goal is to apply for the funds in June and hopefully hear results by the fall of this year.”
Receiving the funds for improvements, however, would just be the tip of the iceberg.
City law requires that sidewalks exist on both sides of a street before a crosswalk can be installed; the Springdale entrance on Leesville Rd., conversely, was built in the 1970’s without one.
That legal holdup has, for years, caused a safety dilemma for hundreds of Leesville students walking or cycling to and from school daily. Dr. Stone, Leesville science teacher, is concerned — “[Springdale] is a very dense neighborhood,” he said, “and there’s not even a crosswalk there.”
“I think it’s really a problem.”
The lack of adequate infrastructure has been recognized, thankfully, but it may still be awhile before anything can be done. “The taskforce has…been working with the residents of Springdale and the city to install sidewalks,” said Baldwin.
“If we are successful with the grant, these improvements will be included. If not, the community is looking into other funding strategies to install sidewalks.”
Baldwin also reported that both sidewalks and electronic “stop”/”walk” signals would be included in the project.
As the topic of pedestrian safety grows in relevance, Leesville will join a lengthy list of schools across the country — from Nevada to Ohio to New Mexico — with concerns about their current infrastructure. After the Albuquerque, N.M., public school system removed many crosswalks and crossing guards earlier this year, one furious parent guaranteed to a local TV station that “somebody is going to get really, really hurt here.”
Someone has already gotten really, really hurt…here at Leesville. Several months ago, an innocent female student was hit by a car while walking across the unnamed street on the western side of campus. If that kind of accident can happen on one of the area’s few existing sidewalks, what disaster might occur if a collision happens at full 45 mph speed?
Moving forward, the pending application for funds must not encourage Leesville students and community residents alike to become complacent with the situation.
Is the area’s pedestrian-ignorant sidewalk and crosswalk situation irrefrangible? No, it’s not, and it’s progressing (albeit slowly) towards a resolution.
But it’s still far from fixed.