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City considering changes in Lawrence school crossing guard sites, criteria

The city is considering overhauling school crossing guard locations around Lawrence for the coming school year, including possibly eliminating nine of the existing 23 adult crossing guard locations and adding a couple of new ones.

The crossing guard locations are being reevaluated by the Lawrence Multimodal Transportation Commission using a new set of criteria, part of the city’s Safe Routes to School plan, which was adopted last year.

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At its June 7 meeting, the MMTC did not recommend approval of the policy to the Lawrence City Commission but instead voted to table the issue amid concerns about the proposed criteria and possible location eliminations.

Dustin Smith, senior project engineer for the city, emphasized this week that neither the recommendations for crossing guard locations nor the School Area Traffic Control Policy that contains the crossing guard criteria have been finalized.

City engineer Dave Cronin said it would be difficult to eliminate any adult crossing guards, but he said the city had tried to make adjustments by loosening the criteria and proposing to reevaluate them again after one year rather than recommending immediate removal.

“Routes change and the school boundaries change, and that may affect the priorities and the location,” Cronin said. “There could be locations out there that meet adult crossing guard criteria and that would be higher priority in the future.”

In the recommendations, some existing crossing guard locations that didn’t meet the minimum criteria could be kept and undergo reevaluation in one year. They could be eliminated, though, if 100% of the criteria isn’t met two years in a row. That includes the 23rd Street and Ousdahl Road intersection south of Schwegler Elementary.

The city gathered data in 2019 and 2020 to evaluate all adult crossing guard locations against “warranting” criteria that include the number of vehicles that pass through a crossing per hour, the number of students that use it and acceptable gaps in traffic to allow time for crossings, according to Smith.

Staff recommended, Smith said, that adult crossing guards only be assigned to locations that met the criteria and were located on the Safe Routes to School plan. In addition, each crossing guard location is to be reevaluated at least once every five years. New crossing guard requests are evaluated by the Safe Routes to School working group, with recommendations forwarded to the MMTC and then on to the city commission for approval.

Before the June 7 meeting, a group of Quail Run Elementary parents submitted written comments in opposition to the new School Traffic Control Policy. In an email, A. Catherine Peace urged the MMTC to reject the proposed policy and to direct city staff to develop a new methodology for approving site selection for crossing guards.

Pearce particularly objected to a plan to eliminate the crossing guard at the intersection of Inverness Drive and Winged Foot Court near Quail Run. “This is an unmarked crossing and represents the ONLY place where children whose homes are on the south side of Inverness can cross to Quail Run anywhere between Wakarusa and Bob Billings,” she wrote.

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According to Smith, that location doesn’t meet the criteria for having a crossing guard, which include a minimum of 40 students using the crosswalk per day and a minimum of 1.5 acceptable gaps per minute for students to cross.

MMTC Commissioner Erin Paden said requiring a minimum number of students to cross an intersection before a crossing guard is warranted seems backwards. 

“Basically we’re telling the parents, ‘Your child has to be crossing at an unsafe intersection in order to get a crossing guard.’” 

Paden said equity issues were also concerning, particularly in lower-income neighborhoods. “If you take the crossing guard away, you’re creating an unsafe situation, where you might be providing that crossing guard for very few kids, but they really need it,” she said. “Mom or Dad can’t walk with them, or they don’t even have a car to drive to school, and so the kid is forced to cross with no crossing guard in an unsafe situation.”

Commissioners also expressed concerns  about the process for appealing decisions. Along with their vote to table the issue, commissioners asked staff to return with added criteria, including a rank for prioritization of locations as well as metrics for equity and potential crossing density.

Smith told the Times the Safe Routes to School working group had reevaluated the plan for crossing guards near Kennedy Elementary since the school board’s vote to repurpose the building as an early childhood community center. The group recommended keeping the crossing guard at 19th and Harper streets while moving the crossing guard location from Harper Street and Davis Road to 23rd and Harper streets with a reevaluation of the data in one year. Smith said those recommendations would be on the MMTC meeting agenda in July.

Other new crossing guard locations in the recommendations are at Harvard Road and Crestline Drive near Sunset Hill Elementary and West Middle School, and another at 27th Terrace and Louisiana Street in front of Broken Arrow Elementary and Billy Mills Middle School.

The crossing guard program is funded by the city at a cost of $107,000 annually, according to a report in the MMTC’s March meeting agenda. The report suggests sharing the cost with the Lawrence school district in the future.

The MMTC’s next meeting is at 6 p.m. July 7 with a work session beginning at 5 p.m. The committee is expected to consider the recommendation of the School Area Traffic Control Policy again during its Aug. 2 meeting in order to give staff time to add weighting criteria to the data and revise the crossing guard recommendations into a ranked list of locations, Smith said.

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