Street crossing concerns not getting across
Teachers handle 20th Street crosswalk duties at West Elementary

       Ever since the first week of his first-year school, West Elementary Principal Terry Martinez has been peppering city officials with traffic safety questions. He just hasn't been getting the answers he'd hoped for.

Although lacking crossing-guard credentials (or liability) second-grade teacher Jane Malmquist (center of crosswalk) and other West Elementary staffers have been taking turns helping students navigate the traffic on 20th Street in front of the school on a daily basis.
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       So it is that at the start and end of school each day, when kids emerge and cars converge on 25 N. 20th St., he feels a concern that more could be done to reduce the dangers to his students crossing streets.
       Traffic at those times “clears out pretty quickly, but while it's in place it's fairly crazy,” Martinez said. “There's a state law that cars are supposed to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. Somehow we need to get across that message.”
       He and concerned parents have tried without success to obtain city authorization for a crossing guard at strategic intersections. These include right in front of the school (the T-intersection of Kiowa Street at 20th), 21st Street and Colorado Avenue and 21st and Kiowa streets.
       Martinez had been especially hopeful about getting a crossing guard in front of the school. “That's my biggest concern” he said. But the study criteria did not indicate a sufficient level of problem severity.

A student heads for the curb in what's known as a "kiss-and-drop," in which parents stop in the traffic lane to let their kids off in the morning.
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       As for 21st and Colorado, the city dismissed it because on the day of its study only one student was seen crossing the avenue there, according to Kristi Hensley of the city's School Safety Program. At 21st and Kiowa, a crosswalk and four-way stop sign were suggested by Jenny Montague, the traffic coordinator for West Elementary's parent-teacher organization (PTO), who deemed the crossing “very dangerous.” Asked about this communication, Hensley said the city is “still looking at that location, but it doesn't meet the criteria for a crossing guard either.” Also, just a block to the south, at 21st and Pikes Peak Avenue, there is already a four-way stop. “It doesn't make sense to have another four-way stop a block away,” she said.
       She added the point that authorizing crossing guards “does cost the city money,” which is why studies are required for each intersection at which they're requested.
       According to the study data, the 20th and Kiowa intersection came the closest to qualifying, but fell short because the city did not find safety issues outside of the crosswalk (which has since been restored) and sheer number of students (55 were counted there on the day of the study). Otherwise, the study criteria liked the street's narrowness (26 feet - which eases getting from one side to the other), low traffic speeds, no history of accidents and lack of issues with grade, visibility or truck traffic.
       Martinez finds it ironic that even though the new West Elementary can't get authorized for a new crossing, the school has been grandfathered for crossing guards at three locations used by schools that District 11 closed after last year. One of these is the former Buena Vista's crossing at 19th and Uintah streets, which he wants to keep. But two others - a former crossing for BV at 17th & Colorado and one used by Washington (Martinez' former school) at Limit & Colorado - are no longer needed, he said.
       West Elementary has scored a couple of small victories. In response to parent and school requests, the city repainted a previously removed crosswalk across 20th Street next to Kiowa Street in front of the school, and installed signs with arrows just north and south of it indicating that the crossing is for schoolchildren.
       But that still doesn't solve the problem of children as young as 4 years old crossing streets without help. At 20th Street, which has no stop sign at Kiowa, Martinez and his teachers take turns shepherding students from one side of 20th to the other, the way a crossing guard would. The catch is that they do not have guard training or insurance. “I've told my staff, 'I can't authorize this, but you can do it as a citizen,'” he said.

Walking home from West Elementary takes several students across 21st Street at Pikes Peak Avenue. Some parents have requested a crosswalk, even a four-way stop, a block north at Kiowa Street.
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       Also, if any students arrive on the late side (for instance, after 7:55 a.m., when the teacher on duty has gone inside), they're completely on their own.
       Even during times of staff assistance, the scene on 20th Street before and after school is a bit like a zoo, based on observations. Other than a special-education bus, there is no bus service to the school (which serves most of what used to be three elementaries' attendance areas), and a high percentage of the 300 students get rides. Contributing to the mix is the lack of a parking lot or drive-through, so all pickups/drop-offs are on-street. As a result, for about 15 minutes at the start and end of the day, traffic sometimes gridlocks in either direction along 20th Street as parents let off or pick up. Some of the kids crossing the street are those who walk to school, with others being those who got rides but were let off on the opposite side of 20th.
       Another issue involves how kids get dropped off or picked up. What the school would like to see is parents using the curbside parking on the school side of the street north of the special education bus parking, but on a cool morning that seems to be too far away and is scarcely used at all. Instead, parents often stop in traffic on the northbound side, next to the parked cars, and let their kids navigate to the curb before driving on (a practice that fourth-grade teacher/volunteer crossing guard Michael Hedges describes as a “kiss and drop”).

In a view looking south, fourth-grade teacher Michael Hedges (left) helps students cross to the school side of 20th Street this week while backed up northbound cars wait or, in some cases, drop off kids.
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       The scene is a little milder in the afternoon, because then many parents park their cars and wait to meet their children outside the school's main entrance.
       School secretary Caron Burch said that staffers have seen some surprising traffic maneuvers, including southbound drivers pulling over to the northbound side for drop-offs, or vehicles backing up into traffic on the northbound side so that they can make a left onto Kiowa.

West Elementary Principal Terry Martinez.
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       Supporting the school's traffic efforts is Kent Poe, safety manager for District 11. Although a crossing guard does not seem likely at this time, he listed other steps being taken. One is painting the curbs in front of the school, a task the district will take on “in the very near future,” to help people distinguish legal parking from areas restricted to handicapped motorists or school buses, he said. He also is working with the Police Department to set up its speed trailer (the speed limit is 25 mph on 20th Street).

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