Oakdale High School science teacher Cameron Nickerson and French teacher Jessica Lawrence have taken up a cause for student safety. The two are circulating petitions on the high school campus, one for staff and one for students, to enhance the safety at the Bryan Avenue and F Street intersection crosswalk.
Nickerson has taught at OHS for four years and said that every year that he’s taught at OHS, at least one child has been hit trying to cross F Street near the high school. After another student pedestrian was hit recently at the F Street and Bryan Avenue intersection, he said he felt inspired to act.
“It’s just a situation where another student was hit and I thought, ‘Can’t we have a light?’ …We need to do something,” Nickerson said. “…It’s just frustrating to me that our students are getting injured. I don’t want to sit around and not do something.”
According to the Oakdale Police Department incident reports, there have been three vehicle versus pedestrian or bicyclist incidents at the F Street and Bryan Avenue intersection in recent years. One was a hit and run of a bicyclist in April 2008, a teenage boy was hit in the crosswalk after school in April of this year, and most recently, a teenage girl was struck in the intersection on the evening Nov. 9. All incidents resulted in major injuries.
That doesn’t count the close calls.
Though none of the students that were injured have been Nickerson’s students, he said that he feels a certain responsibility for them as a teacher.
Nickerson’s desire for a stoplight at the intersection may hit a red light from Caltrans, the agency that gives they “yea” or “nay” on the F Street/Highway 108 crosswalks and lights.
“How many kids have to die before you put in a stoplight?” he asked. “It’s just not right.”
Since it is a state highway, Caltrans has the final say on the matter. If not a stoplight, then Nickerson at least wants something that will help add to student safety, such as blinking lights on the pavement in the crosswalk.
Nickerson cited that there are many factors contributing to student pedestrian safety issues at that crosswalk. He estimated that there are approximately 100 student drivers at OHS and he said that teen drivers don’t have the experience needed to cross a busy street like F Street safely when pressured by lines of cars forming behind them.
He also said that some student pedestrians are distracted with texting on their cell phones or listening to their iPods. He also said that because the student pedestrians see the cars, they mistakenly believe that the drivers of the cars see them.
Blind spots are also created when cars are in the center turn lane on F Street, preventing passing motorists to see pedestrians in the crosswalk.
“Let’s do whatever’s best,” Nickerson said. “My only goal is to make it a safe place to cross the street and make it easier to turn left (from Bryan), especially for new drivers.”
Nickerson and Lawrence acknowledged that they don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to circulating petitions and taking it to the next level. Nickerson said they’re figuring it out as they go. They have plans to go to the city and to Caltrans.
“A light here (at F Street and Bryan) would give our kids a fighting chance at crossing,” Nickerson said.
He added that there are a lot of other hours besides just before and just after school that people are crossing. There are students who are involved in activities such as sports and theater, as well as those who are getting extra help from their teachers. Those students are exiting campus now at or near dark, and bad weather hasn’t come into play yet.
While the Bryan Avenue intersection at F Street has its hazards for pedestrians, there are other intersections on F Street that are frequently used by high school students and not manned with crossing guards. Wood Avenue, the next street west of Bryan, does not have a crosswalk across F Street but is heavily used by students as a crossing area, especially during lunchtime. A number of student pedestrians also cross F Street at Gilbert Avenue, east of Bryan, although there is a crosswalk. It, too, has seen vehicle versus pedestrian accidents.
Lawrence reported that in just one day, 100 students had signed the petition and approximately forty percent of the staff.
“Crossing that street, it’s scary,” Lawrence said.
Nickerson added that Oakdale residents and drivers who regularly pass through the area know it’s a dangerous intersection for pedestrians.
“Let’s not wait for somebody to die before we do something,” he said.
Oakdale school district Superintendent Fred Rich noted in his column this week (See Page A9) that another contributing factor to student pedestrian danger is extra traffic in the mornings and after school due to more parents driving their children to and from school because of less bussing in the district. Less bussing has also resulted in more pedestrian students.
At other crosswalks on F Street that are used frequently by students, at Johnson, Lee and Mann avenues, Oakdale police officers are serving as crossing guards because a sufficient number of qualified volunteers have not stepped forward to man the crosswalks. At the Nov. 16 Oakdale City Council meeting, a consent agenda item was approved by the council to allocate general tax dollars and use part-time Parks and Recreation Department employees to serve as crossing guards.
The $22,000 annual price tag is to be spilt evenly between the city and the school district. School district Assistant Superintendent for Business Tim Hern said that the first place he’ll look for the $11,000 is in the district’s safety fund, which is used to pay campus monitors and was previously used to pay the school resource officers. He said that there are some other areas in the budget where he will look for extra money to fund the effort.
The question remains, however, if this funding will result in a crossing guard at the Bryan and F Street intersection, or if it will just maintain where the current crossing guards are located. How Caltrans responds to the petition for a stoplight or blinking pavement lights at the intersection also remains to be seen.