School crosswalk boo-boo by city may be corrected
by Tony de Garate
Sep 18, 2013 | 2359 views | 2 2 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Volunteers and parents help children navigate the street in front of Ocean Beach Elementary School, where a crosswalk was painted by city crews years ago. The crosswalk was blacked out almost immediately, however, because of a gaffe by city traffic planners. A campaign by volunteers and school officials has the city reassessing the situation and the crosswalk may finally be restored.     Courtesy photo by Kila Bell Johnson
Volunteers and parents help children navigate the street in front of Ocean Beach Elementary School, where a crosswalk was painted by city crews years ago. The crosswalk was blacked out almost immediately, however, because of a gaffe by city traffic planners. A campaign by volunteers and school officials has the city reassessing the situation and the crosswalk may finally be restored. Courtesy photo by Kila Bell Johnson
slideshow
The two yellow lines painted in the middle of the 4700 block of Santa Monica Avenue a few years ago may well hold the record for the shortest-lived crosswalk in history.

The crosswalk was intended to address the unusual campus configuration at Ocean Beach Elementary School, where two of the four kindergarten classes meet at the 105-year-old main campus — affectionately known as “the Big School” — on the south side of the street. The other two classrooms are on the north side, tucked away between the Pioneer Day School and the Ocean Beach Recreation Center.

What happened next is the kind of thing that makes taxpayers cringe. Within days, the crosswalk was gone like disappearing ink. It seems no one at the city remembered the requirement that a mid-block crosswalk must be accompanied by a streetlight. To correct the mistake, a red-faced city administration dispatched a crew to blacken out the yellow lines.

“It was like the angels came, then took it away,” said Nicole Burgess, a pedestrian/bicycling activist and mother of three children who attended the school.

Ever since, parents and school officials have been fighting to get the crosswalk back.

“It was the dumbest place ever to get rid of a crosswalk,” said Wayne Simard, a father of two who heads up a crew of parents who volunteer to monitor the existing crosswalks at both ends of Santa Monica Avenue, as well as the blacked-out crosswalk in the middle of the block.

The before- and after-school scene is usually a bit chaotic at most schools as parents drop off and pick up their children. But with the Newport Avenue business district and high-traffic commutes on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard next door, the need for school-bound children and cars to coexist is an even greater challenge, according to parents.

“All it takes is for one of our kids to get hit by a car,” said Suzy Reid, who succeeded in enlisting the support of the Ocean Beach Town Council last month. Reid, a mother of two Ocean Beach Elementary students, serves in leadership roles on the school’s Site Governance Team and School Site Council.

The crosswalk isn’t only needed before and after school, Reid said. The library, cafeteria, auditorium, main play fields and blacktop are on the main campus side. So when the northside kindergarteners eat lunch, have P.E., attend morning assembly, check out a book or participate in special events, it adds up to a lot of little feet heading over to “the Big School.”

“For the full educational experience, they really need to be able to cross that street safely,” Reid said.

After two years of “going in circles,” as Reid put it, the project now seems to be advancing. The streetlight has funding and is now in the process of being designed and assigned to a program manager, said Duncan Hughes, a senior traffic engineer for the city.

Hughes said it was difficult to estimate a completion date, but offered a project of this kind could take roughly 16-18 months using the traditional bid-and-award process. However, ef-forts are under way to shorten the time frame because of community interest. One way might be to add the job to an existing general requirements contract, which could perhaps shave off 10 months, Hughes said.

Once the streetlight is installed, details still remain, said Gary Pence, senior traffic engineer. Many have expressed a preference for a raised crosswalk, which would act as a speed bump and improve access for wheelchair-bound students. However, it would also reduce parking and require approval from the fire department because it would lack a cut in the middle for emergency-vehicle access. Fire officials have not yet weighed in on the project, Pence said.

Meanwhile, crosswalk or not, various members of Simard’s crew show up at the school around 7:15 every morning, 30 minutes before school starts. At the blacked-out crosswalk, they set up cones and a sandwich-board sign that reads “School Crossing.” Thanks to funds from a grant Burgess helped secure, equipment was purchased through the “It’s Up to All of Us” campaign, a project funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety.

Simard said he was inspired to volunteer after witnessing too many close calls during walks to school with his son, Ian, now 7. When the school went to a K-4 configuration, the school deemed fourth-graders too young to be student cross guards and eliminated the program, Simard said.

At first, Simard showed up with nothing but his Boston-born sensibilities. Now, he has equipment, fellow volunteers, an official T-shirt, yellow neon vest that says “Ian’s Dad” on the back, and growing community support.

Simard, who has spent most of his working life in the security business and can be seen on duty at the Ocean Beach Playhouse, clearly enjoys his job, and his high spirits and big personality play well.

He seems to know most of the people and even the dogs, and smiles come easily as parents and children walk by.

Double-parking is one of the biggest challenges, he said. Parents can’t find room at the curb stop to drop off their children, then cars back up, and some tempt fate and try to drive around. Doors fly open, and kids dart out in open traffic and race the curb.

Simard faced a bit of pushback when he first started volunteering. It was a “Who do you think you are?” sort of thing. And some drivers still bristle when he reminds them about three-minute parking zones, illegal

U-turns and such matters. But safety is too important to not care, Simard said.

“It’s for the kids. That’s all I care about,” he said. “We’ve brought order to the chaos.”

Simard’s advice? “Get here early. And park a few blocks away and walk.”

Comments
(2)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
webmonkee
|
September 22, 2013
OBE Parents rock! Thank you all for your support & dedication. Leanne, Teacher/Parent
waynesim
|
September 18, 2013
Hi, I am Wayne Simard, and I have to say that I am only one of a few that commit themselves daily to this sometimes stressful task. We all love the kids and are there for them on a week-daily-basis. Joe, affectionately known as "Moondoggie" (seen in the picture) was the pioneer of this crew, inspiring me to step up and volunteer. I took his lead, mixed in a little of my own bravado and stepped into the street. We are the 2 that are there everyday. We always hope for and would appreciate more volunteers to step up and give us a hand. Thanks to Caleb, Monique and Tommy for helping when they can as well. Thanks for writing this article and raising awareness for Ocean Beach Elementary.