Every school day for the past seven years, Charlie Knipp has stood on the northwest corner of Parkade Boulevard and Garth Avenue in front of Parkade Elementary School.
With a friendly greeting and a warm smile, he shuttles kids back and forth across both streets on their way to and from school. Cars honk as they pass; he waves.
Taking up a cause
While a crosswalk spans Parkade Boulevard, Knipp is the only safety measure for children who must cross Garth Avenue to reach parents parked in the Parkade Baptist Church lot across the street. There is no stop sign, no crosswalk, no flashing light.
“There are a lot of speeders through here,” he said. “There have been some really close calls (with kids); cars stop really close to here.”
Knipp has campaigned to get a crosswalk or some other type of safety device installed. He’s written letters to teachers and posted fliers on houses around the school.
“There needs to be two white lines or something else here so that cars can’t just speed through,” Knipp said. “I need to tell kids where to stay so they don’t dart off.”
“It’s a no-brainer for me; there needs to be something there so cars would have to stop.”
Mayor Darwin Hindman has taken up Knipp’s cause and addressed the Parkade matter during a recent city council meeting.
“When you have routes to a school, you have (to) ensure that kids can cross safely,” Hindman said in an interview. “Our job as a city is to do whatever we can to make it safe and comfortable.”
An opposing position
Richard Stone, an engineer with the Columbia Public Works Department, said a crosswalk isn’t feasible.
“The crosswalk at Garth would be in the middle of the block, and we’re hesitant to put in a mid-block crosswalk simply for safety reasons,” Stone said. “We don’t want kids thinking they’re safer than they actually are.”
Garth Avenue ascends to a hill at the proposed crosswalk location, and Stone said this is the biggest reason why a crosswalk would be unsafe.
“There isn’t any real good location for a crossing there because of the geography,” Stone said. “Sight distance (for drivers) is a major concern; if there’s not enough of it then that could be dangerous.”
Diane Reinhardt, another city traffic engineer, said a crosswalk wouldn’t help the speeding problem.
“There’s nothing planned right now” for building a crosswalk, Reinhardt said. “The police department is aware of the problem, and they are giving out tickets.”
Police have also posted radar-equipped signs to let drivers know how fast they’re traveling through the school zone. The increased police presence has helped, Knipp said.
“Since we’ve been complaining, they’re out here two, three days a week stopping cars,” he said.
Looking at other safety options
Hindman said that if a crosswalk is not the best fit, then other options must be exhausted.
“Instead of abandoning the effort, we should do whatever it takes,” he said. “Start by putting up more conspicuous signs, or consider speed tables or flashing lights; we should go step by step until the cars slow down.”
This is easier said than done, Stone said.
“Garth has significant volume, and we’re doing what we can to enforce the speed limit,” he said. “Just because there are signs up that tell people to go 20 (miles per hour) doesn’t mean they’ll do so.”
Reinhardt points to an easier solution.
“There aren’t a lot of kids that come from the east side of Garth,” she said. “Parents park in the church parking lot across Garth to get their kids; if they park on the (west) side of the street then there’s no problem.”
Parkade Principal Betsy Baker has heeded Reinhardt’s suggestion and is trying to fix the parking problem.
“It’s a tricky situation,” she said. “We have parents and staff and residential parking; it’s so congested there that it’s difficult to get the buses in.”
Several measures have been taken to ease congestion.
“We’ve asked some staff to park in the back lot, and have asked parents to park in the back lot when they pick up their kids,” Baker said. “We’re going to continue to brainstorm and get parent input because they are the ones affected.”
Though addressing the parking issue would help, Knipp said speeding remains the most important matter.
“Anything to help slow traffic down would be the main thing,” Knipp said. “I just would hate to see anybody run over; that’s the biggest concern.”