Student safety crossing Highway 128 in the spotlight

Pedestrian safety across Highway 128 sparks community discussion as school district removes crossing guard posts.
Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express

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A transportation update regarding new bus stops and the removal of crossing guard posts from Winters Joint Unified School District prompted concerns regarding student safety in crossing across Highway 128 (Grant Avenue) over the weekend.

On Tuesday, Aug. 6, Winters JUSD posted a transportation update on its Facebook page announcing that new bus stops had been established at both Waggoner Elementary and Shirley Rominger Intermediate school campuses to help transport students in TK (Transitional Kindergarten) through fifth grade across Highway 128. Winters JUSD families requested the addition of a bus route to transport students from Rominger to Waggoner at the Feb. 7 school board meeting.

Elementary students who live north of Highway 128 can get a bus ride in the morning from the Rominger campus at 7:25 a.m. and be brought to the Waggoner campus. Upon drop off the bus will transport students from the Waggoner campus to the Rominger campus at 7:55 a.m.

New afternoon bus stops added to the route will pick up first and second graders from the Waggoner campus at 2:32 p.m. and drop them off at Rominger. Rominger students and After School Program attendees can get a bus ride from the Rominger campus at 2:50 p.m. and get dropped off at the Waggoner campus.

The school district transportation update noted that with the change in the bus route they would no longer have crossing guards at Highway 128 and Main Street nor at Highway 128 and Fourth Street. They encouraged students who were walking to cross at the traffic lights at Main Street near the Police & Fire stations or at the Railroad Avenue intersections.

Brad Williams, a concerned parent, told the Express in an email that he lives near the Fourth Street and Grant Avenue crosswalk and has witnessed the pedestrian traffic there. He said he’s seen how busy it is on school days with parents and grandparents trying to cross with children, strollers and bicycles in addition to students of all ages walking or riding across.

“There have been a number of ‘near misses’ even with the crossing guard,” said Williams.

Williams noted his concern in the removal of the crossing guards would be very dangerous to students of all ages trying to cross in the crosswalks between the Main Street and Railroad Avenue traffic intersections. He said the elementary aged children under 9 have not yet developed their full range of peripheral vision and are unable to spot oncoming cars.

“I don’t think that Winters JUSD buses are going to change this. I am concerned that removing the Winters JUSD crossing guards will be very dangerous,” Williams said.

He also raised concern about how the change was shared with the community, calling it poor communication. Williams said a Facebook post announcing the removal of crossing guards from the busiest street in Winters will not reach many people before the first day of school and believes the abrupt absence of crossing guards at Highway 128 will lead to community frustration and cause unsafe situations.

Karen Peters, Winters JUSD Chief Business Officer, told the Express in an email that forms for students to ride busses were sent home and are available at the school sites for students who plan on riding the bus and don’t have a form on file. Peters said all bus riders will need to fill out a form to provide bus drivers important information in the event of an emergency on the bus.

Superintendent Todd Cutler told the Express students who live one mile beyond the elementary schools, for example in the Yolo Housing and in rural areas, are eligible to ride the bus routes for free. The addition of the pick up and drop off stops at Waggoner and Rominger are available to all of the elementary students at no additional cost and the school wouldn’t turn a student in need of a ride away.

Cutler said the safety of their students and staff is of utmost importance at the district and the school district spent time this past spring observing the crossing guards work and how students utilized the crosswalks on Highway 128. Peters echoed the sentiment, saying Winters JUSD constantly reviews their procedures to ensure they are keeping students as safe as possible while allocating our resources effectively.

Cutler said from their observation they saw an increase of cars using Highway 128. The drivers’ speed and unsafe manners brought the determination that it was not a safe option for staff or students. Peters said they observed students crossing Highway 128 at all corners, not just the ones with the crosswalks and/or the crossing guards.

“In trying to serve as many students in the most effective manner, we determined to no longer have a crossing guard there and, instead, provide busing,” said Peters. “We believe that allocating our resources to busing TK-5 students across Grant Avenue provides the safest environment for our students.”

Carol Scianna, Winters’ Environmental Services Manager, said she fielded concerns from crossing guards and a parent who were worried about unsafe drivers on Edwards Street who were not obeying traffic laws. She said the crossing guard had almost been hit a few times. In response the city repainted the crosswalk larger and with yellow lines, added a crosswalk sign and raised the “No Right Turn” sign at the Waggoner drop off lane to try to help make a difference.

She said last year the City provided training and important information to crossing guards through the Winters Police Department in order to support crossing guards and give them the correct means of authorization to direct traffic.

Additionally, the City was also able to add in flashing beacons on Railroad Avenue for pedestrian crossing and on Niemann Street near the Rominger campus.

However, in terms of Highway 128 the City does not have the authority to make modifications. Any modifications must be authorized and approved by Caltrans. According to Scianna, Caltrans would need to conduct a project study and bring in engineers. At a minimum up to $100,000 would be needed to fund modifications.

Scianna referenced Caltrans Complete Streets Concept intended to help ease traffic congestion and provide crosswalks down Highway 128 east of Railroad Avenue. This includes an additional roundabout and built-in crosswalks at Morgan and widening of the overpass over Interstate 505 to make a safer crossing area for residents in Yolo Housing that were presented at the Oct. 30, 2018 city planning commission meeting. She said although she has been able to receive grants to help fund it, the Complete Streets projects alone will cost over $17 Million.

Scianna said she’d like to attempt to get Caltrans on board to get a flashing crosswalk at the corner of Hemenway Street, but has not been successful yet and doesn’t have a funding source for it at the moment.

“We’re still open to working with Caltrans to make improvements to make it safer for students to cross, and just pedestrians in general,” said Scianna.

The Express reached out to Caltrans for comment, but Caltrans officials had not responded by press time

Both Scianna and Cutler said they’d like to try to work to ease up on traffic congestion in the school areas. Scianna suggested families work together to create walking or biking groups to utilize the new bus options. They also emphasized that efforts to use the traffic crosswalks at Main Street or Railroad Avenue provides the safest option to crossing Highway 128.

He said families with children at both Waggoner and Rominger sites were kept in mind in the creation of the additional bus stops.

“When parents are picking up at multiple sites, they can pick up their kids at one location,” said Cutler. “It’s thinking about alleviating all of that car movement.”

He gave credit to school board Trustee Carrie Green for starting conversations about how to safely get students transported from Yolo Housing when she joined the board. He said this was an opportunity to take a look at how to best serve students and making the decision to add the bus route for their safety.

Cutler confirmed the district plans to have crossing guards during the first week of school to help communicate the crossing guard post will not continue there, and to encourage students to ride the bus. He said they will also actively continue to assess and evaluate the bus routes and walking routes.

An additional concern Williams told the Express was in regards to a reply on the district’s Facebook post from a district staff member saying the new buses would not require a sign up. Williams said it implies the students being transported would not be tracked and parents wouldn’t have confirmation about whether their child made the bus or not.

“The district will have no record of who they have transported. These are very young minors to be blindly busing around like that,” said Williams.

When asked, Cutler said they plan to have bus drivers assist during the first few weeks to help students understand the bus route. Parents are also encouraged to educate their students riding about what the plan is and emphasize which bus stop they should get off on.

Scianna said she is working with Rominger Principal Monica Moreno to expand the Active4.me program for Rominger students to include those who walk to Waggoner and take the bus across Highway 128. Active4.me is an active transportation program where students walk or ride their bikes to school and scan in with a yard duty. The scan triggers a notification to the student’s parent or guardian to notify the child has arrived at school.

Scianna said the program has been active for Rominger students only for the past two years. She said the key is for parents to remind students to scan in with the designated yard duty when they arrive.

Questions about the bus routes and transportation forms should be directed to the Winters JUSD office. Peters said she can field questions regarding the reasons for the new bus routes and removing the crossing guards.

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