CHAMPAIGN — City council members on Tuesday gave the green light for city officials to move ahead with changes they think will make a stretch of Prospect Avenue safer for students who cross it to get to and from school.
School-zone signs lowering the speed limit to 20 mph could go up between Green Street and Haines Boulevard within the next couple weeks, and a crossing guard will be in place before long.
Tuesday night's study session was a direct response to an accident in September, when a 7-year-old South Side Elementary student was clipped by a car as she was crossing Prospect Avenue at Daniel Street. The student suffered two broken bones in her leg.
A few dozen parents and South Side Elementary Principal Bill Taylor attended the discussion and said they appreciated the changes the city will make.
"Every year, I tell my parents at the school my main job is to send your kids home the way they come to me, which is safe," Taylor said. "And I feel like I failed with a family a few weeks ago."
Taylor wrote a letter to the city asking for a safer crossing, and he said city officials responded positively.
"Since I wrote that letter and since I've been in contact with members of the police department ... it's been a very positive experience for me," Taylor said. "I feel like my concerns have been listened and addressed."
Parents said they look forward to the changes, too, and that the September accident was a stark reminder of how dangerous it can be to cross one of the city's busiest roads.
"We do feel fortunate that the accident wasn't worse," said Gwenna Pelz, the mother of the girl who was hit. "We feel like these safety measures could stop something from happening in the future."
"We don't often get a second chance to stop what could be a tragedy from happening," said Jeff Brownfield, who has a student at South Side.
Some council members said, as parents themselves, they can identify with South Side families' concerns. Mayor Don Gerard's children went to the school.
"It's a challenge," Gerard said. "I'm keenly aware of trying to get my kids across that street."
Council member Tom Bruno said the city will do what it can, but warned that — crossing guard or not — Prospect is still a busy street.
"We can try to make it safer," Bruno said. "We will not make it risk-free."
The plans threaten to disrupt some drivers' daily commute, but council members took no issue with that problem.
"I think it will create disruptions in the traffic flow, but I think that is something we should be willing — more than willing, in fact — to accept," said council member Michael La Due.
The complete plans for Prospect include:
— Assigning a crossing guard to the intersection of Daniel Street and Prospect Avenue, where the girl was hit. That will cost about $5,000 per year, but funds are already available in the city budget.
— Establishing a 20-mph school zone on Prospect Avenue between Green Street and Haines Boulevard with signs, crosswalk markings and yellow flashers at a cost of about $7,000.
— Updating South Side Elementary's Safe Routes to School plan with a $10,000 state grant and some additional support from the city.
The city will also develop a school zone inventory and crossing guard criteria for the city to deem when such action is needed.
Council members dropped a plan to examine whether Prospect Avenue is better suited for a reduction to three lanes of travel.