WALLA WALLA -- Area students head back to school starting Tuesday, which means hundreds of children will be walking or biking to and from school. At the same time, traffic around and near schools will likely intensify as families drop off and pick up children, school buses travel through town, and daily commuters make their typical rounds through it all.
Mingle that with continued road work -- in some cases, right by schools -- and conditions are ripe for dangerous encounters between drivers and children.
After four reports of vehicles striking children at the start of the last school year, a group of concerned parents established the Safe Travels Alliance. In a year's time, the group started a dialogue on safety around schools and has helped bring important changes to the handling of traffic violations in school zones.
The Walla Walla Aggressive Drivers Response Team was launched to increase patrols in school zones and establish a zero tolerance for traffic infractions. The effort is a partnership between the city, county and S\school district.
Those patrols will launch with the start of the school year, with school zone hours typically from 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on school days. Extra attention is expected at Walla Walla High School and Prospect Point Elementary with the start of the school year as students, staff and families navigate the closure of Reser Road between Howard Street and Fern Avenue while it undergoes improvements. District leaders are anticipating delays and backups in the area, but have said bridge work should be done by Oct. 1, and the full project finished in December.
Safe Travels co-Chairwoman Katie Christianson said her group will be at Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days to provide more information. Christianson and co-Chairwoman Kathryn Southwick-Hess are also working with city leaders to get faded crosswalks repainted. This year, the group will work with specific schools to address individual traffic problems and help come up with solutions.
One such effort is to secure signs with flashing lights to Berney Elementary indicating the school zone, and coming up with a safer pick-up and drop-off plan outside the school.
Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8317.
The following tips are provided by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission and affiliates:
Students should take the safest route to school, avoiding busy intersections, heavy traffic, and walking on streets with sidewalks. If there are no sidewalks, children should walk on the side facing traffic.
Look left, right and left again before crossing a street.
Young children should walk with an adult, or with a friend or group of friends if older.
Wearing bright-colored clothes helps drivers see you. At night, children should wear reflective gear and carry a flashlight.
Be aware of driveways, intersections, and parked cars with drivers inside that may be getting ready to move.
If riding a bike, skating or skateboarding, children should wear a proper-fitting helmet and walk, not ride, across crosswalks.
The driving limit in school zones is 20 mph or slower while school is in session. Look for signs and flashing lights that indicate when you are in the school zone, and observe marked hours.
Avoid making U-turns within school zone markings, or turning around in neighboring residents' driveways.
Use extra caution at crosswalks. Always stop for children crossing, and remain stopped until children have stopped crossing. Don't turn left or right through a crosswalk where people are crossing. If turning, don't wait inside a crosswalk.