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Auburn reexamines school zone lights
Apparently, when some drivers see the amber flashing lights in school zones telling them to slow to 20 mph “or when children are present,” they see red.
And the more vocal among them have let Auburn schools know that the signs are poor fits on some city streets and state highways.
Well, the signs aren’t likely to go away, and neither are the fines handed out for exceeding the speed limit. But it looks as if the City, after it consults with the Auburn School District, is poised to make some adjustments.
At Monday’s meeting of the Municipal Services Committee, City officials rolled out a couple of potential changes to the City code that would allow a reprogramming of the signs to flash at times better suited for the school zones that have them.
To make this change, the City would first have to distinguish schools that need more regulation because they have crosswalks or safe walking routes, and those that need less because they don’t have crosswalks, Public Works Director Dennis Dowdy told the committee.
Traffic Engineer Pablo Para said the City would probably strike from the signs the words “or when children are present.”
Dowdy noted that Chinook Elementary School on busy State Route 164 buses all of its children in, and the only kids who have to walk to school live behind it. If Chinook Elementary School only needs the lights to flash for a half hour before buses and after buses load and unload, he suggested they could be turned off afterwards.
“Perhaps you need it there,” Dowdy said of amber lights at Chinook, “but only for that brief period of time when buses are trying to get out, because it is very difficult to see up and down that road looking to the east. Maybe in that case, if we changed the signs, then we would only have the flashers on for maybe only a 30-minute period in the afternoon, maybe in the morning too,” Dowdy said.
Dowdy cited 132nd Avenue Southeast in front of Arthur Jacobsen Elementary School on Lea Hill as another example.
"That one's going for a pretty long time although it doesn't have a crosswalk involved. There's no crosswalk going over the road," said Dowdy, adding that that's another case where the City probably doesn't need as much regulation as is now in place.
"My understanding is that safety is what's driving this," said Auburn School District Superintendent Kip Herren. "Our involvement has been supporting a grant by the city to provide heightened alerts on streets where traffic runs directly in front of the schools. That puts the safety not only of children but also pedestrians at risk. We have some areas like the one at Chinook where traffic moves pretty fast when it comes off the Enumclaw plateau."
Herren added that most of the complaints he has heard have been about the tickets.
"The lights don't bother them, the sign doesn't bother them, it's when they get a ticket," Herren said.