As thousands of children in Los Angeles walk to school Wednesday as part of a nationwide campaign to encourage kids to walk and bike, parents worry it’s not safe enough for children to cross streets to get there.
Many want crossing guards at schools but there isn’t enough money to hire and assign them, even at locations where a crossing guard is needed.
An estimated 18,000 school kids from about 80 schools in and around Los Angeles will walk to school on Wednesday for Walk to School Day. The campaign encourages parents and children to walk to school for personal health, to build community, and to help relieve traffic.
“A very manageable walk for an elementary school child is about a quarter of a mile,” said Margot Ocanas, pedestrian coordinator for the L.A. Department of Transportation.
Ocanas said a lot of elementary-aged school children in Los Angeles live within a quarter mile of campus but most are driven to school. She thinks it’s a habit forming or mind-shift change for parents to start walking their children to school instead of driving.
“There’s this perception of complete un-safety with parents,” she said. “Some of it is valid and some of it’s just – they’re taking a generalized approach.”
To ease some of that fear and to manage the dangerous intersections, the city assigns paid, adult-crossing guards to intersections near schools that qualify based on traffic surveys.
There are 507 intersections that qualify for a school crossing guard but only 66 percent of them are manned. That means there are 174 locations where traffic is heavy, dozens of children are crossing the street, and the L.A. Department of Transportation has determined a crossing guard is needed – but there aren’t enough crossing guards to go around.
“The ones that qualify, they are put on the list,” said Sgt. Kimmi Porter with the L.A. DOT. “At this time, due to staffing, we don’t have enough guards to put at every intersection.
Officials at L.A. DOT say they need about $3 million in order to staff every location that qualifies for a crossing guard. The department is hiring 40 new crossing guards this year but that will only put a dent into the wait list.
In general, intersections qualify for a crossing guard if there are at least 500 vehicles that pass through the intersection, plus 20 children crossing within a one-hour period during the peak morning and afternoon drive times, said Porter.
Last month, Denise Gonzalez, who has two children attending Baldwin Hills Elementary School, called the L.A. DOT to request a crossing guard at the intersection of South Ridgeley Drive and Sunlight Place, across from the campus. She said a motorcycle driver in September hit a parent while he walked his daughter to school.
“They don’t stop at the stop sign,” she said. “They just go through and our little ones are trying to get across the street and it’s unsafe.”
Baldwin Hills Elementary School technically faces Rodeo Road, a busy and congested street in the mornings. There isn’t a stop sign, street light, or cross walk at the corner of Rodeo Road and Ridgeley Drive, where the school sits.
Because of the long line of vehicles on that road and impatient drivers who turn left against traffic, parents and students are directed to enter school on the Ridgeley Drive side.
Gail Brown is a parent volunteer who helps set up orange traffic cones each school day morning to guide parents dropping off their kids at school. But she said, sometimes parents will pull over to the curb and tell their kids to run across the short street to the school’s entrance gate.
“When people are running late, they just do what’s convenient for them,” Brown said.
Brown said parents at the Baldwin Hills Elementary have been trying for a few years to get a crossing guard assigned to neighborhood intersection at S. Ridgeley and Sunlight Pl.
But this won’t be the year either. L.A. DOT’s Sgt. Porter said the school didn’t meet the department’s traffic count criteria to qualify for a crossing guard.
She said during a recent traffic count, there were only 154 vehicles that drove through the intersection with 53 children crossing in one hour during the morning drive time. In the afternoon, there were 96 vehicles with 28 children crossing.
Porter said the parents could ask police with the L.A. Unified School District for increased traffic enforcement patrols or they could petition to the city’s transportation department for traffic control signs or some type of controlled crosswalk, such as flashing pedestrian lights. But for now, it’s up to the school and concerned parents to educate drivers, other parents and children about safe habits.
Gonzalez was disappointed but said she would "continue to bug them.”
A new city pilot program called Safe Passages that uses safety volunteers to stand along common school walking routes to watch children could augment the crossing guard program, according to officials at L.A. DOT. The pilot will launch at at middle school and could expand to ten other schools.
Crosswalk-related accidents have raised concerns about pedestrian safety near schools. KPCC would like to know what the crosswalks are like near your child's school? Become a KPCC source and tell us.