Don Casey says 10 mph can mean the difference between life and death. He is asking Mesa to reduce the speed limit outside Rhodes Junior High School, where his son, Sean, was killed in September while crossing Baseline Road after football practice.
He has the support of other parents, school administrators and students, but not the city, which is recommending a number of new measures but not lowering the speed limit.
"As parents, we rely on the government, the city to protect our kids in the school zones," Casey said. "They failed on this and they’re still failing us."
The speed limit on Baseline Road near Rhodes is 35 mph between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. on school days, and 45 mph at all other times.
Parents point out that activities are common at Rhodes well into the evening, and Casey was killed at 5:39 p.m. by a car running a red light.
"There are so many kids and community members that use that school after hours," parent Joanne Smith said. "That’s what we’re trying to get across to them — we need to protect our kids after school hours, too."
Last month, Rhodes principal Matt Devlin and Don Casey asked the Mesa Transportation Advisory Board to review traffic conditions around the school on the northwest corner of Baseline Road and Longmore.
Mesa has completed its study, and the first public meeting is scheduled for today. A parent group is gathering signatures in support of new traffic measures, and is encouraging attendance at today’s meeting through a flier and banner hanging on a school fence. The 11-member transportation board submits recommendations to the City Council, which makes the final decision on setting speed limits.
"I want to show you this," Casey said, as he laid down two large photos of his son — one a school portrait and another in an Eagle Scout uniform — Monday night outside their Mesa home.
He told of how Sean led an active and ambitious life, playing several sports and advancing to Eagle Scout status before his death.
"It shouldn’t have to cost this," he said. "I just hope they listen."
Mesa assistant traffic engineer Dan Cleavenger said the city is aware of the after-school and summer activities, but said the majority of students cross during school hours, and there are two signalized intersections for students to use.
"We fully understand that it didn’t help in the death of Sean Casey; that was a red light violation and not a speeding issue," he said.
Cleavenger said that lowering the speed limit to 35 mph at all times is unlikely to reduce speed, could hurt police enforcement efforts and reduce traffic safety.
The city is recommending increasing the size of the school advance warning sign, installing an additional 3-by-3-foot sign in the raised median, installing yellow flashers next to the 35 mph sign to be activated during school hours, and installing speed display units that would show Baseline Road drivers how fast they are traveling. Cleavenger said the speed display has been successfully tested in Phoenix and would be a first in Mesa.
The report states that in the past three years, there have been six crashes involving school-aged children and vehicles on the streets adjacent to Rhodes, with three occurring at Baseline Road. Casey was the only fatality. There have been 58 trafficrelated deaths in Mesa this year.
Rhodes students crossing Baseline Road after school Monday said they have noticed increased police enforcement since Casey died, but they still feel it’s dangerous to cross the sixlane street.
"There are many nearmisses," said ninth-grader Ashley Kuntze. "The people turning go right by you."
School zone speeds is not a new issue to Mesa. In February 1987, the speed limits on major arterial streets near high schools were reduced from 45 mph to 35 mph. But by October, the streets near high schools were posted with dual speed limits — 35 mph from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on school days and 45 mph at other times. In 2000, dual speed limits of 45 and 35 mph were enacted next to all public schools adjacent to arterial streets.
Tempe is the only surrounding city that has permanently lowered the speed limit in school zones, reducing the limit from 45 mph to 35 mph at all times on major roads adjacent to high schools.