I don’t think this issue requires much of an introduction because the debate over paying for crossing guards within the City of Alexandria has been an issue for most of the past years. The existing system in which crossing guards are paid for by the City of Alexandria is simply not something that works anymore in this new world of added budgetary constraint. And actually, as budgets get tighter, this will likely be only the first of many many such debates along the lines of what services should be provided and if so by whom.
This crossing guard issue hits to the core of what the purpose of local government really is. Governments are formed to use the combined resources of a community to deliver to that community products or services for which it would be either prohibitively expensive or impractical for individuals to provide themselves. Crossing guards, however, are simply not one of those resources that require special government funding and regulation.
If you look at this local issue, these crossing guards are serving to protect the safety of a small number of school children who walk from their homes within certain neighborhoods to their schools within those same neighborhoods. Basically, this is a neighborhood issue and one that should be dealt with at the neighborhood level. There is not a single neighborhood in CenLa with a need for crossing guards that does not have at least one community organization. Nor is there a single school to which these crossing guards provide service that does not have a parents’ association. What I’m saying is that for those children, schools, and parents who seek the protection of crossing guards, they already have at their local level a series of support mechanisms available and active to provide such a service. In addition to this, these same neighborhoods are often serviced by at least one or more churches, at least one or more fraternities, sororities, or other social-service organization, AND, the majority of times at which crossing guards are needed (mostly in the mornings because in the afternoon less traffic competes with children) are the same times when parents, grandparents, and other family of these children are not at work. And really, let’s be honest, in some of the neighborhoods in Alexandria where crossing guards are needed, many parents of these children are not working or receiving some sort of government aide, which means they have nothing keeping them from walking their own children to and from school themselves.
Consider me rude. Consider me closed minded, unsupportive, or what have you. But I don’t think it takes a genius to point out that whereas child safety is always needed, providing that needed safety and support is something that should and can be accomplished at the local school/neighborhood/family/household level.
A good friend and I discussed this a bit the other night, and as he pointed out, every school in Rapides Parish has a highly paid Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Deputy called an SRO or School Resource Officer. That person is intended to be the primary link between that school community and the law enforcement community. For all intents and purposes, when it comes to law enforcement, that SRO owns his school. Why is the city or the school board even concerning itself with crossing guards, and why are we paying people to be crossing guards when that SRO is supposed to be overseeing the various law enforcement and safety issues for that school?
From the RPSO website: “The Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office has 60 School Resource Officers stationed throughout Rapides Parish schools. Every elementary, middle and senior high school in the parish has a School Resource Officer, including the private schools. Their primary responsibility is the safety of the students and faculty.”
Certainly, one SRO cannot act as crossing guard at every intersection where protection is needed. However, he could coordinate a team of parents, family, and community volunteers who would (and should) give their time to provide that service. Even beyond that, say volunteers are unavailable, how many law enforcement personnel work for the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Department? How many other law enforcement divisions or employees with police powers are already around and on the clock (and thus being paid from public coffers) at any given time when these children are walking to and from school?
My point is this: neither the City nor the School Board should be paying one single dime beyond what is already budgeted for the police departments to protect the children of our communities on their way to and from school. Law enforcement officials sometimes complain that they do not have enough involvement and contact with youth and that this makes it difficult to engage them and to create and maintain dialog with the communities they serve.
End this ridiculous debate, save your school system and city money better used for educating children and running the city, and volunteer your officers to man those intersections and maintain the safety and security of the school children of our city and parish.
Without discussing the funding sources or the notion of duplicative services, I am compelled to add this:
Like many people (I imagine), I would like to live in a community in which all children can safely walk or bike to school. Call me old-fashioned. Or a liberal. Or an old-fashioned liberal.
Unfortunately, the truth is that many of our schools are inaccessible to pedestrians or cyclists. To me, although they perform a needed service, crossing guards are not nearly as important as ensuring that we have adequate sidewalks and bike lanes throughout a school’s surrounding neighborhood. It’s an infrastructure problem.
I was happy to hear that the School Board recently elected to move Alma Redwine Elementary into what was, when I was a student there, the South Alexandria Sixth Grade Center on Vance Avenue. Bordered by Mason and Overton Streets, Alma Redwine was practically impossible for anyone to walk to. They are both highly-trafficked, high-speed corridors that bisect a neighborhood, creating extremely dangerous conditions for any pedestrian or cyclist. Indeed, about three years ago, a little boy was killed while riding his bicycle on Overton.
One of the first grants that I worked on for the City (along with my good friend Daniel) was called Safe Routes to School. It was aimed at improving pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in and around an elementary school. Because of its proximity to Bolton High School and its location in the heart of an historic, working class neighborhood, we selected L.S. Rugg Elementary on Bush Avenue. It’s a state grant, so it has taken a long time to put shovels in the ground. But we’re close. The plans are nearly finalized.
As a child, I attended Nachman Elementary. Though some may disagree, I think Nachman may be the easiest and safest school for students to walk or bike to in town. Why? Because all of the surrounding neighborhoods have sidewalks.
But obviously, there are infrastructure deficiencies, at least as they relate to walkability and bikeability, around many, if not most, of our elementary schools. Huddle Elementary is located on Texas Avenue, a fairly busy thoroughfare no matter what time of day. W.O. Hall is primarily accessible from Broadway, which is also a heavily-trafficked and pedestrian unfriendly corridor. Although it is surrounded by a walkable neighborhood, Cherokee Elementary is on Prescott, a narrow street that lacks sidewalks. The same with Rosenthal Montessori on Monroe Street. And the list goes on.
Unfortunately, the truth is that many schools, regardless of whether or not they have crossing guards stationed outside their front doors, are simply not safe for children to walk or bike to.
Hopefully, the project around Rugg can serve as a model we can emulate, but it is important to remember: This is not a quick or cheap fix. It takes years. It requires outside funding sources. And most importantly, it requires the support and the cooperation of the school, parents, and the neighborhood.
I totally agree with the assessment of infrastructure being a problem with pedestrian and bicycle safety as regards kids getting to and from school. About a year ago I rode my bike to literally every school and government building in Alexandria and Pineville (it was actually a pretty nice ride) and took pictures of bike racks wherever I found them. By the time I was got back to where I’d parked the Jeep, I only had a handful of photos. Pineville Elementary, the main branch of the Library, Fulton Park, St James Episcopal School, the Zoo, and Nachman had accessible bike racks. Most public buildings and schools didn’t have one at all including Bolton, neither the Pineville nor Alexandria City Halls, Bringhurst, the softball complex, not even City Park had a bike rack!
And as for sidewalks, forget it. Even on the part of Jackson St that goes through the Garden District there are huge swaths of simply missing sidewalk and others that have years-old debris piles atop them. This is actually beside the point because it’s not even legal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk!
Under State and Federal law (CFR 49), bicycles are to treated as vehicles and are to be afforded the same legal standing and protections as cars and trucks. The only differences are that bicycle riders are not required to have a license (although they may be ticketed, and those who do have driver’s licenses will get points on their license for fines issued while on bike just as they would if in a car); and bicycles, like tractors and other slow-moving vehicles must allow faster moving traffic to pass them by keeping toward the right of their lane. They are also given a legal protection in Louisiana in that cars and trucks are required to maintain a minimum of 3 feet between the widest point of their vehicle and the bicycle when passing cyclists. AND, the risk and inconvenience of passing a cyclist is on the car/truck, not the bicycle. In other words, it’s not the cyclist’s job to get out of your way, it’s your job to get out of his and passing a bicycle carries the exact same procedure, risks, and responsibilities as if you choose to pass another car. This means the bicycle is not supposed to get off the road for you to pass, YOU are supposed to change lanes and then change back when clear and if opposing traffic prevents you from being able to pass, then you legally have to slow down and wait.
This is the problem, legal protections for cyclists exist. As do legal responsibilities (like riding WITH traffic and not against it, signaling turns, coming to a stop at intersections, etc). Yet, without police protection, drivers tend to be either unaware of their responsibilities or abusively endanger the public confident in the knowledge no one will bother them. Cyclists likewise hop back and forth between sidewalk and street and often have no clue how they mesh into that system.
Improving infrastructure, fixing sidewalks, adding bike lanes, and putting in actual dedicated bike paths are certainly the ultimate form of protection. However the money for such upgrades is hard to come by and the design and construction often takes decades even after funding is available.
There is however one surefire way to make a city safe for cyclists, drivers, pedestrians alike — put the police on foot and on bike!
If every officer in our police departments were required to spend a minimum of one full shift on bike or on foot per week, then we would have no problem with bicycle and pedestrian safety.
We would also likely have a major drop in neighborhood crime because the fact is that you see and hear and smell so much more when you are biking at 5-10 mph than you do when you are riding around in an enclosed police car at 35-40 mph. You also have to talk to people and chat and say hello as you walk or ride by.
And, we’d probably save a LOT of money on health insurance premiums because one shift a week on bike or foot would mean a lot more fit and healthy police force!
This is yet another of those evil, FREE solutions to a problem. God forbid something be tried that doesn’t involve spending money.