Children are in Imminent Danger on our Streets

Questions:

What are the biggest problems preventing children in your school from walking and biking?

What can administrators and teachers do to help?

What can parents, who transport their children by carpool, do to help?  What about parents with children living within 1 1/2 miles of school?

Is there support from the federal, state and local government (municipality and police) that would help in your efforts?

How long have you been involved or when did you become interested?

What do you hope to accomplish at your school?

What are some of the short and long term goals for these initiatives?

What are your biggest concerns and obstacles in getting this accomplished?

Facts Checked:

West Cary Middle School- Eye witness account by Leigh Williams

Carnage Middle School- Reported by WRAL

Preston Village- Reported by WRAL

Dillard Drive-Eye witness account by Chris Widmar

Sources:       

Leigh William-PTA Board Member

Sarah Martin:  PTA Board Member and Action for Healthy Kids

Christine Martin-Penny Road Teacher

Michele McKinley- Project Coordinator, Advocates for Health in Action, WakeMed

Laura Aiken- Director, Advocates for Health in Action

Natalie Best- WakeMed.org, Program Lead Healthy Kids Programs

Town of Cary

Parks and Recreation

Audience:

Citizens of Cary, North Carolina

Communities throughout America struggling with similar issues.

Additional Items for Publication Online:

Multimedia and interactive features: Interactive chat room for victims and eye-witness accounts of other unreported accidents.

Fact box: Including data from the federal Safe Routes to Schools initiative about likelihood of fatality or serious injury based on speed of vehicle, most frequent points of conflict between vehicles and bicycles, etc.

Fact box: Physical changes to roadways from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center that can increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists, including improvements such as road diets, roundabout traffic circles, flashing pedestrian warning signals, etc.

FAQ list: Details about the federal Safe Routes to School Initiative, as well as state implementation information to assist others parents and schools who wish to participate in the program.

Podcasts: Safety information videos for cyclists utilizing public streets, safe crossing practices for pedestrians at intersections, etc.

Interview notes:  Including Leigh Williams, Sarah Martin, Michele McKinley, Christine Martin and students from Dillard Drive and West Cary Middle Schools

Maps:  Google maps of each Cary elementary school identifying existing safe routes and needed improvements.

Online Story:

As a mother approaches her son’s school, a rush or horror fills her entire body.  She sees flashing lights and a child lying on the ground.  Her fears are confirmed, a child has been hit while walking home from school.

Daily, children are put in harms way, as they make their way home from school, both walking and biking, taking enormous risks, as the paths they choose are entirely unsafe.  Sadly, situations such as the one described, occur more frequently than one might expect right here in Cary, North Carolina.  Many of these incidents go unreported, seemingly unknown to communities and parents.

On a sunny October day in 2012, a teenager, from West Cary Middle School is hit by a car crossing an intersection at NW Maynard Rd near his school.  As tragic as this seems, there was no media coverage and parents were not informed by the Wake County Public School System.

On a rainy March day in 2009, a Carnage Middle School sixth-grader was hit on Penny Road while trying to cross the street to get on his bus.  This was reported in the media, though the coverage was limited.  It is not only the paths to and from school that present a danger for young pedestrians, it is the lack of safe options or routes for all pedestrians and cyclists.

In March of 2010, an 11-year-old boy was hit by a car in the Preston Village area of Cary just after 5 p.m. while riding his bike. Shockingly, he was struck while on his way home, by a neighbor, crossing an intersection near his home. Lack of safe options may have caused this child to take unnecessary risks.

Finally, last year a teacher, Lorraine Potoczek, at Dillard Drive Middle School, was hit and injured, as a crossing guard, while helping a child cross Dillard Drive. How did this happen?  Why can’t pedestrians and drivers share the road?  Why are we not informed about these tragic accidents?  Safe pathways and greater awareness could have prevented any one of these events.

Sarah Martin, a state PTA Board Member, shared “it’s a chronic community problem for the town and residents.”  Sarah works intimately on the Action for Healthy Kids initiative, which encourages exercise, working closely with obesity issues in sedentary children.  “We are challenged with trying to provide options for children to be more active and yet the surrounding towns do not have adequate safe routes for kids.”

Leigh Williams, an active PTA member, shared “while living in Europe, I grew accustomed to walkable and bikeable communities. Upon my return to the United States I decided I wanted the same way of life for my family and our Cary community,” shared Leigh.  As a result, Leigh has become involved in the Safe Routes to School initiative.

Interestingly, amidst all these challenges, the Town of Cary is known as one of the top bike friendly communities in the country, due to its vast greenways and many bike trails.  However, this doesn’t necessarily equate to a safe walking and bike friendly community.

Leigh suggested, “the challenges in making Cary a safe place for cyclists are its lack of sidewalks, dangerous intersections, basic bike amenities (bike racks) and bike lanes that are so small they are dangerously inadequate, ultimately putting riders at great risk.”

Leigh shared “it starts with individual families, schools and neighborhoods.”  Programs like “Safe Routes to Schools” can help build momentum at the family and school level.  As Leigh Williams is doing for her own family, “ultimately this helps bring awareness to a serious problem”.

Another school that has taken a proactive approach is Penny Road Elementary School.  Christine Martin, a Penny Road gym teacher shared “we participated in the National Walk to School Day and would love to have a walk to school day each month.  Safety is our most important goal, so we need adequate safety equipment for crossing guards, as well as parent volunteers.” She suggested that the Safe Routes to School program can help educate teachers and parents about implementing safe routes for their own families.

So why is a town like Cary, North Carolina, with a reputation for being a bike friendly community having so many safety issues?  It is not isolated to Cary, it is a national epidemic, with roadways built to accommodate more and more vehicles, ultimately threatening the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.  The Town of Cary has achieved recognition as a bike friendly town, but still drivers and vehicles threaten the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

The fact remains, kids still can’t walk or bike to school without putting themselves in harms way.  Many of our schools don’t even have bike racks to accommodate the children that would like to ride.  Bicycle and pedestrian safety classes are also not provided to educate children on safe practices.

Without basic walking and biking amenities, such as sidewalks, bike racks and safe crosswalks, as well as safety education for children and drivers, a Safe Routes to School program is just another political slogan.

Ultimately, the responsibility falls upon individuals, parents, volunteers, teachers, school administrators and local governments to provide children with safe options, ultimately encouraging them to increase their activity.  Without a true commitment of resources, change is unlikely and our children will continue to take life-threatening risks when going to school.

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