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Telling pedestrians where to go

New crossing guards direct flow of cars, pedestrians and humor

Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2001

Sometimes a crossing guard needs a gimmick to catch people's attention. For Juneau's LeRoy Davis, the answer is singing. Sometimes, he performs a tongue-in-cheek parody to the tune "On Top of Old Smokey:"

"On top of Mount Juneau, all covered with snow, I lost my true lover by going too slow. She stepped off the curb and into the street. The first car that hit her knocked her off of her feet."

Davis said singing isn't his primary responsibility, but it does help get people safely from one curb to the other. Stationed in front of the downtown library, he is one of five new crossing guards hired by the city to help reduce summer downtown congestion.

Four weeks on the job, Davis joined the program after retiring last July from the state Department of Labor where he was an assistant director.

"This is completely different. Before I managed between 100 and 112 people and now I tell thousands of people what to do and where to go. It's more fun to work with people who are obviously having a good time."

The part-time crossing guards are part of the Juneau Police Department, but don't have enforcement powers. Their primary focus is to keep traffic downtown moving and to that end, move pedestrians in groups instead of one by one. Where and when the crossing guards are stationed depends on how many cruise ships are in and where they are docked, said police Capt. Tom Porter.

"We want to safely move pedestrians across the street, but at the same time move vehicular traffic," he said.

Because the program is new, Porter said the department will make adjustments as needed. It's not too late to become a crossing guard - Porter said the department has an open recruitment process.

"There's a lot of public relations that goes with it. We want to try to give good information," he said.

Funding for the $50,000 May-through-September program comes from the cruise ship passenger fee, according to City Manager Dave Palmer.

The crossing guards don't solicit questions from pedestrians, but get plenty of queries anyway. Most frequently, Davis said he directs people to the post office, the Red Dog Saloon, and the statue of Patsy Ann, the dog who became Juneau's official greeter in the 1930s.

Further down South Franklin Street, Bear McGinnis was directing people across the street, stop sign in hand. While a couple of pedestrians have defied his orders, McGinnis said most people cooperate. He hasn't had to use his whistle yet.

"I really think the most important thing is keeping traffic flowing," he said. "Most of all, I try to keep the trucks going."

Reaction to the program has been largely positive, according to the guards. Veendam passengers April Lewis of Buena Park, Calif., and Kim Ehn of San Diego were impressed after a trip across the street with Davis.

"He's wonderful! Polite, and sweet as he can be," Lewis said.

"It's nice not to be scared you're going to be hit by someone when you cross the street," Ehn added.

Karen and Chuck Keen, who run the Robert Service Gift Shop on Seward Street, also said the program is helpful.

"It speeds traffic along and it's a whole lot safer," Karen Keen said.

Chuck Keen added that the guards help offset a perception that Juneau is anti-tourism.

"What impressed me is that they are courteous and friendly," he said.

But not everyone is so sure. Juneau Taxi driver Al Parce was parked at Admiral Way on Wednesday afternoon.

"It seems to be more of a holdup of traffic to me," he said. "It seems like an added expense for the city they don't really need."

Juneau Trolley Car Co. driver Thomas Rozek held a different opinion.

"It's one heck of a good idea. We need more, more, especially in downtown," he said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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