When school lets out each day at Auke Bay Elementary, a few children stand at the edge of busy Glacier Highway waiting to cross. Occasionally, a child will dart out just before a vehicle speeds by.
"I bet they (Auke Bay children) have close calls. I cringe to think about it," said Nancy Lehnhart, a parent of two Auke Bay students.
For two years Lehnhart and other parents at Auke Bay have been lobbying for a crosswalk on the highway near the school, but so far their efforts have had little result. Recently a representative from the state Department of Transportation came to the Auke Bay site council meeting to explain why the state isn't going to install a crosswalk anytime soon.
"The thing about crosswalks is that crosswalks are effective when drivers are aware that a crosswalk is there," said Chris Morrow, DOT's preliminary design chief for Southeast. "Crosswalks don't necessarily ensure safety."
A crosswalk gives pedestrians a sense of security, Morrow said, so they step into the road expecting cars to stop. Though some motorists in the Auke Bay area are aware of the school, many are just passing through, and may not remember the crosswalk is there. If a pedestrian assumes cars will stop, and the motorist forgets, a serious accident could result, Morrow said.
Morrow said DOT is examining the necessity of a crosswalk near Auke Bay school, especially because there is a crosswalk just up the street near the post office.
The problem with the crosswalk may be just one of Auke Bay's growing pains. Over recent years, Auke Bay has expanded to become a small village along the highway, with a collection of businesses frequented by a growing population of residents, said Juneau Community Development Director Dale Pernula. With residential areas and businesses comes foot traffic, and at this point there is no sidewalk because the area wasn't developed with pedestrian walkways in mind. Pernula said the area is ripe for a development plan. However, the city isn't working on one.
Lehnhart hopes the city will focus on Auke Bay soon.
"Auke Bay is really changing, there are a lot of pedestrians. We really have to raise awareness that there is a community there," Lehnhart said. "We need a plan for the area. One that has a pedestrian focus."
According to Morrow, DOT is in the process of developing a transportation plan for the area that may better accommodate walkers, but any changes are years away. The agency will take public comment on the plan and has pledged to work with Auke Bay parents. In the meantime the best solution would be for the school to get a crossing guard, he said.
Auke Bay Elementary parent Andi Story believes many people in the area, such as University of Alaska Southeast students using the nearby activity center and patrons of Chan's Thai Kitchen, would use a crosswalk. She realizes DOT is working on a plan, but wants an intermediate solution. Story isn't convinced by DOT's anti-crosswalk argument.
"To me that was saying that I shouldn't use any crosswalk because I am putting myself at risk," Story said. "He was saying that I am more safe jaywalking than using a crosswalk."
Lehnhart said though a crossing guard would be nice, it is not cost effective, and one wouldn't be available all the time.
"It would be great if we could have a crossing guard, but we can't even get enough aides for recess in the morning," Lehnhart said.
Auke Bay parents also are concerned drivers often ignore the posted school speed limit. There are too many competing signs in the area, including a bank sign that sometimes flashes an inaccurate time and temperature. With so many things to look at, motorists just don't see the school speed limit signs, Lehnhart said.
At the site council meeting, a representative of DOT agreed to look at the issue of signs and to supply the community with a metal "speed box" that shows drivers their speed as they pass to remind them to slow down.
Pernula said residents of Auke Bay who have an interest in developing a plan for the community should write letters to the Juneau Assembly and the Planning Commission.
Lehnhart said she hopes there won't be any accidents while officials are trying to decide what to do about the crosswalk problem.
"We have children crossing by just looking both ways and running," she said. "We would hate to see someone get hurt."
Julia O'Malley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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