Glacier Valley ponders 'crossing assistants'

State is not considering school zone at intersection

Posted: Sunday, October 26, 2003

State officials don't recommend slowing down Mendenhall Loop Road traffic as children are going to and from nearby Glacier Valley Elementary School. But the school's principal believes students need help crossing the busy street.

On Monday, fifth-grader Skyler Lee Kim died after he was hit by a pickup truck while crossing the street against the light, police said.

Principal Ted Wilson said the Glacier Valley Site Council and the school's parent group will meet this week to discuss the intersection of Mendenhall Loop Road and Stephen Richards Memorial Drive.

Before and after a celebration of Skyler's life on Saturday at Glacier Valley school, residents signed a petition to the Juneau Assembly, seeking that the intersection be made a school zone

Skyler, 10, lived in the Sprucewood Mobile Home Park on the west side of Mendenhall Loop Road. Glacier Valley school, at 3400 Tongass Boulevard, is one block east of the road.

Wilson said he expects the addition of voluntary "crossing assistants" at the intersection to be a community effort, stemming from heightened safety concerns after Skyler's death.

The volunteers wouldn't act as crossing guards because they wouldn't stop traffic to allow children to cross, Wilson said. The traffic signal is there for that. The assistants will help students cross with the light.

Farther north on Mendenhall Loop Road, at the turn-in to Floyd Dryden Middle School, are crossing guards and flashing yellow lights designating a 20 mph school zone.

Douglas Cooper, whose 9-year-old son crosses Mendenhall Loop Road to get to Glacier Valley school, said the intersection needs a school zone.

Mendenhall Loop Road is under state jurisdiction, said Chris Morrow, maintenance and operations director for the Southeast region of the state Department of Transportation. The regional director would have to approve a school zone, he said.

But Morrow said he isn't recommending a school zone at the intersection of Mendenhall Loop Road and Stephen Richards Memorial Drive and Haloff Way.

According to national practices, it would be unusual for a school zone on a roadway that isn't adjacent to the school, Morrow said, noting differences in the situation at Floyd Dryden.

The intersection near the middle school doesn't have a traffic signal, although work on another signal for Mendenhall Loop at nearby Mendenhall Boulevard is scheduled to begin next summer, he said.

Floyd Dryden also doesn't have a footbridge. The footbridge crossing Mendenhall Loop Road just south of Stephen Richards Memorial Drive was there long before the traffic signal, Morrow said.

"I've talked with the school district. I've talked with parents," he said.

He is aware that many of them want a school zone on Mendenhall Loop Road near Stephen Richards Memorial Drive.

Slowing traffic with a school zone there, where there are safe ways to cross, would create traffic problems in other places, he said.

Morrow said he was manager of the Stephen Richards/Haloff traffic-signal project, which will be reviewed by next summer, when it will have been in service for three years.

"We've seen two fatal accidents there. It affects us greatly," he said. "Two fatalities raise a question. You look to see what could have been done differently."

He said transportation officials have been talking about such safety concerns since the July 22 accident that killed Paulette Alden, 49. She was driving a Ford Escort that collided with a dump truck at midday.

Later that week, at night, a pickup truck that sideswiped a vehicle went airborne and ended up on the pedestrian path on the west side of Mendenhall Loop Road, police said. No one was killed. The driver, who was injured, was later convicted of drunken driving.

Juneau Police Capt. Tom Porter said people have been asking about crossing guards at that intersection and what could be done to make it safer.

Cooper said he wants authorities to see what is going on there. Several mornings last week he videotaped the intersection.

"Nobody seems to know the problem," he said.

Vehicles travel at 45 to 50 mph in the 40 mph zone, Cooper said. He has seen some vehicles enter the intersection when the light is red.

"How can you trust a child anymore when you can't trust grown people going through the intersection?" he asked.

Cooper said the intersection at least should have left-turn lights for traffic coming from Stephen Richards Memorial Drive and Haloff Way.

Greg Pease, executive director for Gastineau Human Services, also said the intersection could use left-turn signals. As someone who bicycles through the intersection, he said it's sometimes a guess figuring out what motorists are going to do.

Stressing the importance of bicycle helmets, he recalled very nearly being killed by a bus at the intersection about three years ago, before the traffic light was installed.

"I still wake up with flashbacks of the wheel going by my head," he said. "It just missed my head by a foot."

He recalled that the bus driver said he didn't see him.

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