Radar to monitor traffic near schools

If study turns out as hoped, city may expand radar use to all school zones

Posted: Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The city of Juneau has installed two radar stations on Riverside Drive to make motorists think as they pass Riverbend Elementary School.

Streets Superintendent Michael Scott said the city received an $8,000 state grant to put up the two radars, which read and flash vehicle speeds as cars pass them.

"This is one way for us to provide some additional pedestrian safety and raise driver awareness," Scott said.

The state and the city have received numerous requests to monitor traffic around Juneau schools since a fatal car accident in October of 2003, Scott said. A fifth-grader from Glacier Valley Elementary School was hit by a car while crossing Mendenhall Loop Road. He suffered severe head injuries and died.

The two radars will be rotated among five locations: the intersection of Mendenhall Loop Road and Stephen Richards Memorial Drive; Tongass Boulevard at Glacier Valley Elementary School; Glacier Highway in front of Harborview Elementary School and Juneau-Douglas High School; Riverside Drive at Riverbend Elementary School; and Douglas Highway at Gastineau Elementary School.

After school starts, the radars will stay at each location for three weeks. To determine how effectively a radar's flashing display slows cars down, Scott will compare vehicle speeds with and without the display on.

Riverbend principal Carmen Katasse is one of those who have requested that the city better enforce speed limits in school zones. Katasse said many motorists drive at 50 mph on Riverside even through the road's speed limit is 15 mph during school hours and 35 mph at other times.

"Many drivers are still in that fast mindset when they turn off from Egan Drive to Riverside," Katasse said.

A car nearly hit one crossing guard last year, Katasse said.

"The driver said he didn't see her and the speed limit sign because it was hidden under a tree," she said.

The radars' flashing feature will be more effective in alerting drivers, Katasse said, especially in winter when the school is dismissed at 3:45 p.m. and there is little daylight left. She said she has noticed cars slow down because of the radars.

Unlike the city's single portable radar trailer, the new radars can record vehicle speeds and the number of vehicles. It can also record information at different times of the day.

Since the radars were installed Wednesday, the one near the Riverbend Elementary School has shown that about 28 percent of the 13,635 vehicles headed toward town violated the 35 mph speed limit.

"If the study turns out as hoped and speeds are reduced, we may try to secure additional funding with another grant to have these displays permanently erected in all the (Juneau) school zones," Scott said.

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.

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