“Everyone’s afraid their kid is going to get hit.”
— Jillian Wieseneck
No one was surprised when a sixth-grade student was hit by a car driver while crossing North Flint at Russell near Harriet Tubman Middle School last week.
Both times in the past three years that this school has re-opened to students, attempts have been made to educate the public about the traffic chaos that takes place in front of the school each day during drop-off and pick-up. This year the site houses a middle school and observers say conditions are worse than ever before. And as reported in more detail by The Oregonian this week, parents had flagged dangerous conditions on Flint for months prior to the opening of school.
Today, some parents remain afraid for their children’s safety and they’re frustrated at the lack of respect their concerns have been shown by PBOT thus far. Portland Public Schools and PBOT are aware of the issues and are taking (and have taken) steps to make it better; but will it be enough? And will it happen soon enough?
PBOT and the school respond
Some safety updates to Flint have been made already and there have been some educational efforts. There are now a few speed bumps in front of the school and there are striped crosswalks on both sides of N Page Street (which is adjacent to the school’s main entrance). There are big “School is in Session” banners and signs in the neighborhood that urge people to use caution.
PBOT was quoted in The Oregonian article that striping of Flint and Russell is coming soon. The City’s Safe Routes to School program staff are also in touch with parents about holding an educational event. Tubman’s Principal Natasha Butler and a PBOT Safe Routes to School Program Coordinator Lale Santelices signed onto a join email to parents yesterday stating they are, “Deeply concerned whenever anyone is injured on our streets.” They also shared a map:
And while Principal Butler and PBOT’s Santelices say “We believe [Flint Ave and Russell] would benefit from markings,” they are also calling on the community to focus on education. “There are limits on the effectiveness of infrastructure, so we will need community support to encourage safe behavior from everyone: commuters and the school community alike.”
We’ve also heard that PBOT is planning another educational campaign that will encourage parents who drive to the school to park “away from the school” and walk the rest of the way. For people biking south on Flint, PBOT will encourage them to stay on Vancouver and then turn right on Tillamook to connect back to Flint. For cut-through drivers that want to access the Broadway Bridge, the city will ask them to consider taking Russell to Interstate instead.
What an expert thinks
Kari Schlosshauer is the Portland-based Pacific Northwest Senior Policy Manager with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. She thinks both educational and infrastructure solutions are needed.
“It’s unfortunate that these concerns [about the crosswalk at Flint and Russell] were not addressed prior to the school re-opening,” Schlosshauer said, “and I can empathize with the school community’s frustration.” “Regardless of where marked crossings exist, we know that people will follow their ‘desire line’ and take the most direct path to their destination,” she added. “Telling students not to cross somewhere will only work while someone is stationed at that intersection. It will continue to be dangerous until there is an engineering change.”
Conditions on Flint
It is really chaotic. There is a steady of stream of bicycle riders, auto users, and even a few large big-rig trucks came barreling down while I was there; not to mention all the kids (being kids) walking to school. All the traffic would be bad on its own, but because there are so many different behaviors going on, the conditions feel even more stressful. Many people using Flint in the morning are just cutting-through to somewhere else. That type of use does not mix well with people who are trying to access the school.
Another thing I noticed was very bad choices being made by bicycle riders. People on bikes swooped around crosswalk users at high speeds and I even saw a guy flying down the left side of the road, seemingly frustrated by all the traffic and just wanting to avoid it all.
And the corner of Flint and Russell is very dangerous and complicated. There are several different movements happening, and it’s downhill so you have that speed/momentum factor of bicycle users. I think a marked crosswalk would help here, but I doubt it would suddenly solve the problems. Given that so much of the danger comes from automobiles — and that educational efforts are likely to have only limited impact — we’ve heard from some activists who think Flint should be closed to driving during drop-off and pick-up. Carfree school zones are common in cities in The Netherlands and the idea has recently spread to Norway.
There are just a few parents advocating for safety upgrades. I met two of them at the school yesterday. Jillian Wieseneck and Joan Petit both have students at Tubman. Jillian’s work so far has been key to getting the new crossings striped at Page Street. And while she’s glad to see some movement, it still feels like too little too late — especially since someone has been hurt. “This whole thing could have been started last year,” she said, while we stood on the corner of Flint and Russell.
Wieseneck lives in Irvington and for years her kids enjoyed a very safe walk to a nearby school. But getting to Tubman is much more dangerous. From their home near NE 14th and Tillamook, Wieseneck’s child and other kids her neighborhood have to cross 7th, Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Williams, Vancouver, and Flint before they are safely in class. “Everyone’s afraid their kid is going to get hit,” she said. Wieseneck thinks establishing a safe route for biking and walking to school should have been done before the start of school. She’s also frustrated because her neighborhood is not served by a free school bus. “All of us would send our kids on buses if we could, just to get them off the streets,” she said. “We’re less than 1.5 miles away, so we don’t get a bus; yet we also don’t have a safe route, so we’re caught between a rock and a hard place.”
Wieseneck and fellow school parent Joan Petit want a flashing beacon to aid crossers of Flint at Russell. “Just like the one Legacy [Hospital] put in up the street,” Petit said, pointing north where a flashing beacon and crosswalk was installed in 2011. They also want signals and/or a striped crosswalk on Page at Vancouver and Williams.
Both of these moms feel that educational efforts could have a huge impact.
“You can influence kids,” Wieseneck said, “Especially now. They’re scared. They saw the girl get hit. Now they know it’s a reality.”
CORRECTION, 10/25 at 4:22pm: This post originally attributed an email as coming from Tubman Principal Natasha Butler. I failed to mention that a PBOT Safe Routes to School staffer was a co-signer to that email. I regret the error.
Never miss a story. Sign-up for the daily BP Headlines email.
BikePortland needs your support.