Opinion

Trying to secure a safe school zone in Auburn | Klaas

As far as John Neibel is concerned, it is an accident ready to happen.

Too many impatient parents waiting to pick up their children from school, jamming a stressed street during one concentrated, brief period of time in the middle of the afternoon.

Too many kids are afoot, many scrambling unsupervised from the final bell to home.

Not enough crosswalks. Not enough enforcement of rules. Not enough safety in mind.

"At 3:10 they hit the streets, and it's chaos," said Neibel, a Dick Scobee Elementary parent concerned with the student-pickup procedures at the school. "With all the stuff going on out on the street, no one is doing anything. Somebody is going to get hurt, and it's getting worse and worse."

Neibel is one of a handful of vocal parents who would like to see change for the sake of safety. He says he has been fighting the City and Auburn School District officials since May to address the ongoing problem at the school.

Cars typically clog 14th Street Northeast, park in prohibited zones, hug yellow curbs and crowd mailboxes and fire hydrants. Necessary construction work and vital public safety service responses compound the mess.

What's more, student and adult pedestrians often jaywalk or dart between parked cars, concerned parents have observed.

While Auburn police periodically patrol the area at pickup time, it is not enough of a presence, parents say.

While City and school officials understand there is an existing problem, change has come slowly.

"It's a nightmare out there," insisted Neibel, whose youngest daughter attends the school. "I'm trying to work with them."

Heavy after-school traffic and student pickup safety concerns are nothing new to officials. District leaders frequently encounter issues elsewhere. Each school is different. Each has its issues, given its location and nature of streets and traffic patterns, but the common denominator is always safety.

Chinook Elementary School, for example, is located along busy Auburn Way South. Auburn High School contends with a busy 4th Street Northeast. Other schools deal with congestion, narrow streets and limited and restricted parking.

Improvements and modifications have been made at schools, and they have worked.

At some schools, like Scobee, traffic has become a pressing issue as more parents opt to pick up their children. That increasing traffic is "one thing we can't control," said John Lobdell, Auburn School District safety officer.

Scobee, an older downtown school in a compact neighborhood, wasn't built with a high volume of vehicles arriving to pick up students in mind.

The district is doing what it can to manage the problem and improve the situation, officials said. All sides are listening.

The City will step in, if needed, Mayor Pete Lewis said. There are options, such as temporary speed bumps and crosswalks and added patrols.

"We're working with the school district," Lewis insisted. "We're not going to put in anything unless the district and parents want it."

Neibel won't be satisfied until improvements are made, such as installing perhaps another crosswalk on the west end of the school. He is working directly with school and City officials to see what can be done. He is listening to the recommendations.

Changes have come. Principal Adam Couch and the school have begun the process. Scobee Elementary has since added 20 staff parking lots on campus to free up parking along the street. The school is piloting a staggered release of students, beginning with the departure of kids who take the bus in order to free up loading zones for parents and vehicles. The school also is looking to establish a walking club.

But those changes won't be effective unless parents, volunteers and students practice a better understanding and obedience of speed zones, traffic laws, road signs and school pickup procedures.

Safety is a cooperative thing, a responsibility shared by all. Each side should do their part.

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