As summer vacation officially ends Tuesday for Mesa Public Schools students, four district schools have received traffic zone makeovers in an effort to make sure students stay safe as they head back to the classroom.
Westwood High School, Highland Junior High School, Hermosa Vista Elementary School and Carson Junior High School now benefit from improved crosswalks, sidewalks and bike lanes, among other things.
Funding for the tasks came from a “mix of sources,” explained Transportation Department Spokesperson Amy McConnell, including Mesa Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) Program and Transportation Operation Funds.
“School zones are a big focus for our traffic engineers to make sure they’re as safe as possible,” she said. “The biggest focus is usually on crosswalks and traffic flow patterns.”
The projects come at a time when Arizona ranks almost last for school zone safety, according to a California-based Zendrive report, with Maricopa County being the worst in the state.
Zendrive, a technology startup that creates data sets for mobile driving behavior tools, says traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for all school-aged kids—and peak hours are just before and after school.
Mesa’s new transportation projects, explained McConnell, came as a direct result from either department analyses or feedback from residents.
For Westwood High School, the transportation department installed a pedestrian hybrid beacon to “provide greater crossing safety,” complete with a signal for students.
Despite having a 15 miles-per-hour speed limit, it was difficult for students to safely cross over the five lanes of traffic on the Rio Salado Pathway, said McConnell.
A full traffic signal was installed on the seven-lane arterial roadway at Highland Junior High School, eliminating the 15 miles-per-hour school zone, and sidewalk improvements were made to create a path to and from campus.
At Hermosa Vista Elementary School, a large number of students riding their bikes was causing an overflow of safe standing area for those waiting to cross 24th Street, explained the transportation spokesperson.
Sidewalk extensions were installed at the school’s 15 miles-per-hour crosswalk to establish a more well-defined crossing space.
Bike lanes and sidewalk improvements were incorporated along Westwood High School to make “safer avenues” for those walking or biking to Carson Junior High.
“Every year our traffic analysts and engineers monitor school zones and come up with recommendations for how to improve safety based on what they see,” said McConnell. “But Carson Junior high was brought to our attention by a resident who lives in that neighborhood.”
“So,” she added, “we did a traffic study and saw what some of those problems were and what they [the residents] were concerned about, and then designed that project to respond to that need.”
The junior high’s improvements also set out to better define travel lanes where parking restrictions exist.
In continuing with the department’s efforts to promote school zone safety, Dobson High School will be hosting a free Maricopa Association of Governments workshop geared toward crossing guard training.
“Hundreds of crossing guards across the East Valley will come together,” said McConnell. “It’s a half-day refresher course on what their responsibilities are, best practices and different types of crossing they might encounter.”
She added that she believes it’s crucial for the public to understand basic school and crossing zone traffic laws.
“It’s especially important if you don’t have children who are in school—you might not really be aware as to when school is back in session or remember just how little the little ones can be that are trying to cross,” said the spokesperson. “It’s important to make sure everyone feels accountable and responsible.”
McConnell explained that when stop signs or traffic signals are not present in a school zone, students rely on a 15 miles-per-hour speed limit to keep them safe.
Drivers should adhere to the 15 miles-per-hour speed limit as soon as they hit the first in-street traffic sign, and keep that speed until passing the marked crosswalk.
“When you are near a school, always be conscious of your speed so that you can react quickly to any situation,” McConnell said.
Passing other cars is never allowed in school zones, regardless of speed limits, and drivers may not enter a crosswalk if a pedestrian is in any part of it.
Another rule is that drivers need to comply with all “No Parking,” “No Standing” and “No Stopping” signage.
McConnell said the Mesa Transportation Department will be doing a follow up on each of the new projects in the near future to determine their success rates.
“Traffic analysts will be out there on those first days of school and first two weeks to see how things are going and if any adjustments do need to be made,” said McConnell.