For the past six years, Hai Xing Lewis and Jordan Welsh have used the crosswalk at Neff Road and Parkridge Drive to get to class, first at Juniper Elementary, and now at Pilot Butte Middle School. And that journey across NE Neff has always been dangerous, the eighth graders say, despite being in a school speed zone.
“We’ve almost been hit by cars a couple times, because they’ve been speeding through or didn’t stop for us,” said Hai Xing, 13.
“They don’t notice that people are here; they’re on their phones,” added Jordan, also 13.
The pair decided to talk with city of Bend transportation experts and the Bend City Council earlier this spring, asking them to improve the crosswalk at Neff and Parkridge. This was for an International Baccalaureate assignment at Pilot Butte that requires all eighth graders to design a project that assists the community.
Coincidentally, the city was already considering making improvements to the area for pedestrians, but Hai Xing and Jordan’s campaign emphasized how great the need for a change is on Neff, said Janet Hruby, project engineer with the city of Bend.
“This reinforces (our efforts), now that the user group is saying it’s an issue,” she said.
Hai Xing and Jordan said the crosswalk at Neff and Parkridge is treacherous in the morning and after school.
Sometimes, the line of parents picking up their kids in the afternoon can get so long that it overflows onto Neff and the students have to play a game of “Frogger” just to cross Neff, Jordan said.
The busy arterial nature of Neff — it’s one of the few major east-to-west roads in that part of town — can make for a tense relationship between drivers and students.
“It makes us feel a little angry that we’re not being noticed, and cars are just speeding through without acknowledging us,” Hai Xing said. “Most of them try not to even look at us; they just look somewhere else.”
There sometimes are crossing guards at Pilot Butte’s two crosswalks — the second is at Neff and NE Shepard Road — but they aren’t always at both crosswalks, and Hai Xing and Jordan said even with guards present, cars sometimes didn’t stop or slow down.
What the two want is to make the crosswalk more prominent to drivers. Some of their ideas include having brighter crosswalk signs, signs with flashing lights and even an educational campaign to remind drivers to slow down in school zones.
They even came up with a slogan: Look, cross, live. It’s a simple concept.
Before they spoke to the City Council on May 1, Hai Xing and Jordan spoke with Hruby, who works with citizen concerns regarding traffic in Bend. Hruby said Pilot Butte staff has complained about Neff’s crosswalks many times over the years, and the city had planned on enhancing the crossings.
One change that should be occurring this summer is re-painting the school-crossing signs with a more vibrant, neon color, Hruby said. But a larger, long-term change that the city is looking into is installing new school speed limit signs. Currently, the 20 mph signs say the school zone speeds are in place on school days from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. These signs could be replaced with new school zone signs with large flashing lights that would go off in the morning and after school when students are likely to be crossing the street.
According to Hruby, the 7-5 school-zone signs aren’t as effective to drivers, because it reduces the importance of slowing down in their minds if there’s not kids actively crossing the street in front of them.
The city is applying for a $50,000 Oregon Department of Transportation grant to purchase three pairs of flashing school zone signs — the location for the other two pairs hasn’t been decided yet — and if the grant is approved, the signs could be installed during the 2019-20 school year.
But signs and laws aren’t the only solution, Hruby said, which is why she was intrigued by Hai Xing and Jordan’s education campaign.
“We can put up all the signs we want, but the big thing about school speed limits is driver behavior,” Hruby said. “I’d be interested to see how we can work with them to carry that forward.”
Pilot Butte Principal Steven Stancliff said a significant number of kids at his school and Juniper use the Neff/Parkridge crosswalk, as well as the crosswalk at Neff and Shepard. He agreed that the crosswalks should be made more visible to drivers.
“I think people view Neff and some of these east-west arterial roads as thoroughfares to get from one side of town to another, and usually they’re in a hurry,” he said. “I think it’s probably also equally a concern for Juniper, seeing as they have even smaller kids.”
Although the eighth graders won’t need to walk to Pilot Butte next school year — Hai Xing will attend Mountain View High School, while Jordan will be at Bend High — they said they hope their campaign and talks with the city will keep Pilot Butte and Juniper students safe.
“That would be really cool, just to make sure that everybody else is feeling as safe as they need to be,” Jordan said.
But for now, Hai Xing, Jordan and Hruby urged drivers to slow down and pay attention while driving on Neff during school hours.
“Our town is still small enough that if you drive the slower speed limit in a school zone, you’re just adding minutes to your commute, and those are minutes well-spent when kids are crossing,” Hruby said.
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