Concerns raised by some Franklin School parents have pushed pedestrian safety into the public spotlight. It's always healthy when this kind of review occurs before rather than after a tragic accident. We hope the discussion extends to the future Gregori High School and possibly other campuses as well.
The parents want the school board to relax its policy to allow more elementary students who live less than a mile from school to ride the bus. The policy permits limited exceptions for safety reasons; Franklin parents believe their children should qualify.
Most Franklin students walk along typical residential streets to get to and from school. The immediate concern is for those who must use Maze Boulevard-Highway 132. It's a busy stretch of road, though far from the busiest in the city. It has two lanes with a wide gravel shoulder. Safety at Franklin improved dramatically in 1999 when the city installed a wide sidewalk along Maze. The speed limit is 25 mph — the standard forschool zones.
The gravel shoulder provides much-needed parking for school visitors and staff. Large trucks should not be allowed to park there, however, because they interfere with visibility. The city could fix that.
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Despite the amount and noise of the traffic, it isn't the busiest street by an elementary campus. El Vista School is on a four-lane street with significantly more traffic; Fremont is on Orangeburg Avenue, another busy thoroughfare.
Modesto may want to consult with Stanislaus Union School officials, whose students are nearly all bused because of its location on Kiernan AvenueHighway 219. Kiernan, however, has no sidewalks.
Then there's Gregori High, which is to be built on what is now a two-lane country road east of Salida, in an area with no sidewalks. Under current policy, Gregori students living less than three miles away would have to walk.
Changing the walking distance requirements is always controversial. In 2003, the school board increased the walking distance for junior high students from a mile and a half to two miles. In the early 1990s, the district increased the high school walking distance from 2½ miles to three miles. In both cases, the goal was to save money.
Cost always must be a consideration — and students should be encouraged to get more exercise — but these factors never outweigh legitimate dangers to students. The solution at Franklin may not be more busing, but additional traffic patrols or escorts for youngsters walking along Maze.
Parents raised a concern and school board members are taking it seriously, with at least one or two expected to visit the school today. This is how community issues are supposed to be addressed.