Parents signal traffic concerns

Glendale school and city officials are reevaluating where crossing guards are assigned throughout the city due, in part, to concerns raised by parents.

Since the beginning of the school year, several parents of children who attend Balboa Elementary have been attending school board and PTA meetings, requesting at least one crossing guard be assigned to Balboa.

The school's student population has risen by about 200 students in the past few years, climbing to 730 students this year, from 540 students in 2010, according to state data.

Parents have told school officials that they want a crossing guard because of increased vehicular traffic around campus.

During a March PTA meeting at Balboa, parents expressed concerns that the risk of a student being struck by a car is not a matter of "if" but "when."

"The reality is, something is going to happen" said parent Noelle Millien during the meeting, which was attended by top financial officials from Glendale Unified. "And I hope to God it's not my child or anyone's child until you guys wake up and do something about it."

The recent increase in students at Balboa is tied, in part, to programs offered at Keppel and Franklin elementary schools, according to Kelly King, assistant superintendent of Glendale Unified.

Keppel is a visual and performing arts magnet school and Franklin is a dual-language immersion magnet. Both magnet programs were implemented during the 2011-12 school year, King said.

In order to have a diversified population of students at Keppel from throughout Glendale, its boundaries shrank, while Balboa's boundaries expanded, King said.

The Glendale school board could consider changing Keppel's boundaries for the 2015-16 school year, when the district is released from adhering to terms of the initial magnet grant funding it received to establish the programs, she said, adding that a change in Keppel's boundaries would lessen the impact on Balboa.

In the meantime, Balboa's population falls within the 600-to-800 range Glendale Unified aims to maintain at its elementary schools, King said.

Also, when the immersion program started at Franklin, out-of-district students were admitted, King said. Now, however, only the siblings of those initial out-of-district students are being accepted, she added.

King also said some additional students were sent to Jefferson or Columbus elementary schools when the magnet schools started.

However, Jefferson has three crossing guards and Columbus has one, according to King.

Concerns raised by Balboa parents as well as other parents in the district have helped spur city and school officials to reexamine where crossing guards are currently assigned, King said.

"The parents are one voice, but I think there's many voices that have prompted us to be looking at this," King said. "A lot of voices came together at the same time. This is a community buy-in."

The city of Glendale pays about $260,000 annually for 30 crossing guards at various locations, according to city spokesman Tom Lorenz.

Of those crossing guards, 29 work near Glendale Unified schools and one assists students at Vahan & Anoush Chamlian Armenian School, King said. Also, three L.A. County-funded crossing guards work near four schools in unincorporated areas of La Crescenta.

The city follows guidelines laid out by the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices when determining whether crossing guards are warranted.

In many cases, city traffic engineers observe campuses in the morning and afternoon and count how many pedestrians and vehicles move through crosswalks.

At streets with stop-sign controlled crossings, they note whether 40 or more pedestrians cross within an hour. They also check to see if more than 500 vehicles move through an intersection either in the morning or afternoon.

In a 2013 study of Balboa Elementary, more than 40 pedestrians crossed at Allen and Bel Aire avenues, but only about 250 vehicles were tallied crossing the intersection in the morning and then again in the afternoon — which is below the 500-vehicle threshold for one of those time periods.

So, the city study determined a crossing guard wasn't warranted.

They also examined the crossing at Irving and Bel Aire avenues and found the amount of pedestrians and vehicles did not warrant a crossing guard.

Regardless of the city's findings, though, it's up to Glendale Unified officials to assign crossing guards to various streets, Lorenz said.

King also said that even if studies don't warrant a crossing guard, "it doesn't mean it's not needed."

Lorenz said city traffic engineers perform studies at schools upon request by school officials or when there are engineering changes made to streets, such as a new stop sign or signal is installed at an intersection.

Although a school's student population may contribute to increased traffic at a school, it is not a determining factor in whether a crossing guard is assigned there.

Compared to Balboa's 730 students, Valley View Elementary, another residential school, has 415 students — and a crossing guard. Lincoln Elementary, another residential campus with 460 students, also has a crossing guard.

One unique area in the district, King said, encompasses the streets near Hoover High, Toll Middle School and Keppel Elementary. About 3,850 students currently flock to the three schools where 14 crossing guards control foot and vehicular traffic.

"It really is a unique geography," King said, adding that city and school officials will also be reexamining the number of crossing guards assigned there.

"If you look at the three schools as one, that is an extremely high number of cars and students and pedestrians in one location," she said.

With a finite number of crossing guards paid for by the city, both city and school officials say there's a need to prioritize.

"As far as we're concerned in the city of Glendale, our roadways and our sidewalks are super-sensitive to us around any school, just with the fact that our children are there... I think everyone would like to have a crossing guard at every intersection," Lorenz said. "We've got to do the best with what we've got."

One of King's goals is to create traffic plans for every elementary school that would include drop-off and pick-up points, and she is committed to thoughtfully examining where crossing guards are currently utilized — or not — and exploring how other approaches to control traffic can help schools.

"The crossing guard is one part of that," she said. "It's really just a piece, and a much bigger piece we're working on [is] to increase student safety and pedestrian safety around our schools.... Everyone has the same mission," she said of maintaining student safety.

"I'm glad we're all working in the same direction," she added.


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