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School zone standards worth a look

"Show up at the roadside in front of Blakely Elementary School with a note pad and a camera, and boy, does one draw a crowd. We hadn't been there five minutes Monday afternoon, before we met half a dozen parents eager to talk about what they perceive as unsafe conditions for youngsters traversing the school zone.While opinions on addressing the issue varied, all were in agreement that the biggest threat to the safety of students around the school grounds is speed, speed, speed.If the speed limit is 40, one mom observed, you know some people will be going 50.It was our second trip to the school that day, watching the 460 or so K-4 students trundle in by bus, car and minivan, and on foot. Traffic around the two driveways knotted up, relaxed and knotted again; students and passing motorists negotiated each others' presence warily.Leaving the issue of speeding drivers aside - we'll get to them in a moment - we were struck most by the lack of improved shoulders and bike lanes in the general vicinity of the school. So on a whim, we made a quick morning tour of the island's other elementary campuses, to see what other students face. We found conditions around Wilkes School, perched at the intersection of North Madison Avenue and Day Road East, illustrative of the lack of clear standards for the safety of student pedestrians and bicyclists.North of the Wilkes campus, we noticed, students have the advantage of wide, paved shoulders on both sides of the road; south of the school grounds is a lengthy paved shoulder set off by curbing on one side, but only a grassy shoulder on the other. Going east and west, the shoulders are narrow and unimproved even by gravel, often giving way to ditches or otherwise impassable. One can easily imagine school-bound youngsters hugging the roadway to stay out of the ditch, and in so doing veering perilously close to traffic.With the city putting together an island-wide, non-motorized transportation plan over the next year, we back the notion of devoting a section to school zones - perhaps calling for bike lanes or sidewalks, say, 100 yards or a quarter-mile in each direction - to establish a standard for school-zone safety. Then follow through with improvements.That won't address the problem of speeding motorists. But given what we've seen on Madison Avenue lately - drivers thumbing their noses at the calming project, many charging through the new crosswalks even when pedestrians wait at the curb, recent vandalism to some of the pylons...We're beginning to doubt the capacity of Bainbridge drivers for any restraint at all. We really are.Dry timesWhile we're thinking of Madison Avenue, several folks have asked us recently whether anyone is watering the temporary trees that are part of the temporary calming project.The several dozen young firs and...um, cedars, right?...placed at the curbside were supposed to give passersby an idea of how landscaping might be included with permanent changes to the roadway.A fine idea, but our own experience suggests that potted plants require a lot of water. Many of the trees on Madison Avenue, alas, are turning into tindersticks by the day, and don't look like they'll last the full 60 days of the trial period.However the project turns out, the trees at least should have a future in some local park or right-of-way. It would be a shame to see them fall victim to neglect now. "

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