"Slow down!” Catherine Parke yelled at a speeding car as she stood and waved a sign in the air on Broadway across the street from Grant Elementary School. The sign read “Slow Down. 3Rs: Reduce Speed, Respect Laws, Remember Children.”
“They’re driving awfully fast this morning,” Grant PTA President Julie Davis said to Debbie Hamilton as they both held signs encouraging drivers to slow down near the intersection of Broadway and Garth Avenue.
The PTA at Grant is continuing its safety-awareness campaign this school year. The group started the grassroots campaign in winter to remind drivers the area is a school zone. At the same time, some parents who are frustrated with the situation are trying to work with the city to find a more permanent solution.
“This is a main artery of town,” Davis said. “The school sits right on it, which is part of what I love, but people don’t know it’s a school.”
Also at that intersection is the Columbia Public Library with its public art sculpture. The school and the sign bearing its name are shaded by trees making them less visible from the road. There is a school zone sign for eastbound drivers on Broadway because the speed limit changes, but there is no sign westbound on Broadway because the speed limit is already 20 mph through downtown.
“It’s interesting to see the sociology of commuting when you’re standing here,” Parke said. “People are multitasking. They’re busy going to work or are on their cell phones.”
Columbia police officer Jeff Forck issued citations to speeding drivers at Grant on Friday. Police issued about 60 citations from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday and Friday combined to drivers speeding in the school zone around Grant, he said.
Forck said that the Police Department is giving extra attention to Grant because of the parents’ concerns.
“The parents’ efforts have definitely brought more attention to the school zone,” Forck said. “There is a slowdown in traffic and less traffic problems when they’re there.”
On Thursday afternoon, Meg Milanick held a sign that read “Cop ahead: better go 20 mph.” She said that three citations were issued just in the 30 minutes she was holding the sign.
Parents said that although the response has been mostly positive, there has been some negative response as well. Parke and Milanick said a driver yelled at them to “get a day job” this week. “What’s more important than the safety of our children?” Park asked.
Parents of Grant students volunteer to stand along the sidewalks in front of the building before and after school and hold signs reminding drivers that they are in a school zone and they need to slow down.
The PTA hopes to do the campaign once a month and to have about a dozen volunteers at each session. Parke noted that it could be tough because many parents work when school starts and ends each day. The PTA invited all families of students at Grant to participate in the program. About 25 families have volunteered so far.
The parents said Crystal Church, principal of Grant, has been very supportive of their campaign. “She holds a sign when she can, but she is busy with the students before and after school,” Milanick said.
Thomas E. Jones has been a crossing guard at Grant for seven years. He also recognizes the problem of speeding drivers in the school zone and is grateful for the parents’ help.
“I think it helps out a lot,” Jones said. “The cops have been out here. Everyone’s speeding, and they gave tickets, which was good. If people don’t respect school zones, they deserve what they get.”
Grant isn’t the first school to tackle the problem of speeding traffic. Shepard Elementary School officials asked the city to do a traffic study. The study showed a problem and while the city searched for solutions, the company 3M stepped in to help. 3M, Shepard’s partner in education, gave the school a traffic-feedback sign, which became active Sept. 3. The sign flashes when drivers are speeding.
“It was a collaborative effort between the school, the city and 3M,” said Jonetta Weaver, Shepard Elementary principal. “3M donated the product, the city donated the labor and (Shepard) was the lucky recipient.”
Weaver thinks the sign has been effective. “It’s interesting to watch drivers come off Stadium or U.S. 63 into the residential area. They’re still thinking about the day’s events, so it’s a great reminder to drivers that they are in a school zone and they need to slow down,” she said.
“I hope drivers understand that we aren’t trying to accuse them; we just want them to pay attention,” Parke said. “We’re very passionate about the safety of our children, and the point is to all work together.”