County looks at traffic safety around schools

DANVILLE — Every weekday morning for last two years, crossing guard Debra Deatley has helped K-5 students cross busy Main Street to get to Cannon Elementary School safely.

"You have your speeders. But for the most part, they pay attention to the kids," she said of the passing motorists.

Principal Kimberly Pabst said some children crossing Main Street and Bismark Street, on Cannon's western boundary, walk to school. But a good number are driven by parents and dropped off in parking lots across the streets to avoid traffic congestion in the school's driveway/parking lot.

"We haven't had a problem yet, but it very well could happen," Pabst said.

Now the consulting firm of RW Armstrong of Indianapolis is recommending solutions to improve traffic flow and safety at Cannon and five other Vermilion County schools. The others include Catlin elementary and high schools, Judith Giacoma elementary in Westville, Westville Junior High and Pinecrest Elementary in Georgetown.

Representatives will share the recommendations at a Danville Area Transportation Study meeting at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in the lower level of the Danville Municipal Building, 17 W. Main St. The meeting is open to the public.

"If the public wants an opportunity to comment, now is the time," said Adam Aull, director of the local transportation group.

The committee, which studies transportation needs in Danville and areas of southern Vermilion County, began studying the school-zone traffic in September 2011. It approved spending $74,000 in federal transportation funds to have the consultants gather bus, car, bike and pedestrian traffic data, identify problems and recommend improvements.

In February, consultants unveiled preliminary plans for each school and sought feedback. Now they're back to present their findings and recommendations.

Cannon School, at 1202 E. Main St. sits on the corner of Main, which has four driving lanes and a center turning lane, and Bismark, a side street used mainly by neighborhood residents and parents. Buses line up on Bismark Street to unload and load students, while motorists turn into the parking lot from Main Street, drop kids off at the east door, continue through the lot and exit onto Bismark.

But many parents, including Shawn and Amy Young, choose to drop off their kids in an empty lot across from the school to avoid getting stuck in traffic.

"This is the only place you can really park," Shawn Young explained, adding he or his wife always walk their son Robert, a first-grader, across the street and into the building. "Cannon is a really old school. They didn't think about traffic back in the day."

Under the firm's recommendation, a bus parking area would be created on the east side of Bismark Street, running parallel to the street, Aull said. That would get the buses off the street.

Then the direction of traffic into the parking lot would change. Staff, parents and other visitors would enter from Bismark Street; parents would drop off their kids, then exit by taking a right turn onto Main Street.

"It would be a huge adjustment, but it will be less chaotic and safer for students," Pabst said, adding it has staff support. In addition to having fewer students crossing the streets, "we will be able to place every student in their car. Right now, we do that with kindergartners. That will be a very good feeling."

Aull said the final recommendations and drawings will be placed at the public libraries in Danville, Catlin, Georgetown and Westville. People will have two weeks to submit any last-minute comments, which the consultants may choose to work into the final plan.

Comments can be left with the plan. People can also email them to Aull at aaull@cityofdanville.org or drop them off at his office at the Danville Municipal Building.

The plans will be submitted to each school district and city or village. Then it will be up to officials in those jurisdictions to decide whether to put them in place.

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