School zone ahead

School zone ahead

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.

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SaintClarence27 wrote on October 23, 2013 at 8:10 am

I'm getting this second-hand, but according to someone who was there, Bruno waited until public comments were over (so no one could respond), and then essentially blamed parents of children for having them go to a school across Prospect from their home. This sounds really terrible to me. Was anyone there who can confirm this?

pattsi wrote on October 23, 2013 at 9:10 am

Several items that I did not hear discussed or put on the table, that might be useful to be folded into the whole conversation. The ongoing conversation ought to focus, as was suggested, not just on children getting to and from school but anyone trying to cross Prospect at any time whether walking, biking, or driving. It is most disappointing to be reminded that buckets and buckets and buckets of public monies were spent on the reconfiguration of Prospect and Green, yet it is still not a safe and comfortable crossing situation. Further, 2 bicyclists were killed at Prospect and Green along with many cars landing in the NW front yard at that corner. One of the reasons for leaving the steps at the SW corner has to do with functioning as a barrier during an accident.

1. I did not hear any suggestion of considering makng Green and John one-way couple. this would eliminate many of the traffic friction issues. This idea has been on and off the table for over 3 decades, but never grows legs. This configuration is not a substitute for other applications. It would be a part thereof. When one analyzes children getting to Dr. Howard, some of the ease of doing so is assisted by a one-way couple bordering the school.

2. Moving the light from Green to John is just not good practice because Green is an E-W through street.

3. The concept of complete streets has merit, but the application to a major N-S street is not best practice. Prospect as was mentioned has a hill or grade in the Daniel to Green area. Further, the width of the street varies N and S adding to the design, line-of-sight, and temporing driving behavior considerations. The width of Prospect by Bottenfield is wider and the line-of-sights cleaner than the area near Southside. This is an important difference.

4. I understand all of the corrective proposals along the school area. It is important to take into consider how driving behavior will be affected, using alternative streets and accelerating between slow down signs, stop lights, cross walks, etc. placed on within the discussed area. All one has to do is watch the speed up driving behavior along Healey between Mattis and Prospect where stop signs are placed every other block. The speed between signs often is 40 mph or faster because drivers get frustrated with type of configuration. The crossing flag program was mentioned during the conversations, but was essentially disregarded by the Champaign policeman. This type of program is used, as an example, on the main downtown street in Salt Lake City, a very busy street.

5. During the meeting, there were no available statistics as to how many students live west of Prospect and attend Southside and how many live east of Prospect and attend Westview. As mentioned by council members these data points might be useful as would any other mitigation proposals from Unit 4 related to school choice.

Zelp wrote on October 23, 2013 at 10:10 am

You can watch the meeting on the city council website, and find out what Bruno said for yourself.

just have to select the "City Council" playlist, then "City Council 10-22-13"


Also, the reported numbers for South Side students living W of Prospect is 20, and Westview students E of Prospect is 6.  That is for students alone, not including anyone walking with them (like parents and/or siblings)