SOLANA BEACH — The elimination of crossing guards at two dangerous intersections on Lomas Santa Fe Drive prompted several parents and students to ask City Council to intervene.
At the Sept. 12 meeting, more than a dozen youngsters, mostly from Skyline Elementary, said because of dangerous traffic at the Interstate 5 ramps they are no longer able to walk, bike or scooter to and from school.
“I would like to see more adult supervision along the route to my school each day, specifically by the freeway entrances and exits,” fifth-grader Ellie Koff said. “I really enjoy walking and biking because it makes me feel responsible.”
With Skyline undergoing a total rebuild, she said it’s important to walk, bike or scooter because the temporary campus has no grass field for play.
“We really can’t even run at school,” Ellie said. “So now more than ever getting our morning exercise can help us have more positive, productive days at school.”
She said the issue is also about more than safety.
“Adults are constantly telling us to be environmentally friendly by walking and biking instead of riding in a car,” Ellie added. “There is a huge group of us that are willing to do that if we can have some help from supervisors.”
“I think it’s a really important thing for me and for all my friends to be doing because it makes you more aware of what’s going on in your community,” sixth-grader London Gilbert said. “It also is a big responsibility that is a good thing to have.
“(A)ll the cars are going very fast and it can be really nerve-wracking just to walk to and from school,” she added. “I don’t want to see any of my friends or family affected by any accidents that could happen.”
“I enjoy walking because it gets me started for the day so I’m not super tired when school starts,” Ella Engleberg said.
“Last year one of the highlights of switching to Skyline was riding my bike further than a half a mile per day,” another fifth-grader said. “I love getting the extra exercise and being helpful to the environment. It will also give me independence and responsibility.
“Riding my bike three miles per day was my favorite part of fourth grade,” he added. “Can you really take fun away from a 10-year-old? … I think you should put a policeman on the freeway entrances so kids can make it across safely because a policeman can direct traffic and civilians can’t.”
A few parents also weighed in.
“Students should not walk or ride because it’s unsafe should not be an acceptable solution to any of us,” Catherine Gilbert said. “As a community we have a responsibility to our children to promote independence, healthy choices and environmental stewardship, all of which are promoted by students walking and riding to school.
“Putting my child in a vehicle to keep them safe deprives them of those opportunities,” she added.
“I understand the school district wanting to keep their employees safe,” Shawna McGarry said. “But I do believe it’s imperative that we come together as a city to re-provide the crossing guards … so that we can keep these kids walking and biking to school.
“Children need activity throughout the day,” she added. “These commutes are a great opportunity. … Our children are learning about the environment and the impacts of climate change. What better lesson for them for us to come together to create a solution that enables them to make the best choice in the morning and be active on their commute to school.”
City Manager Greg Wade said Solana Beach is already working with school district officials to find short- and long-term solutions, the latter of which includes improvements at the freeway intersections.
But Councilman Dave Zito said those areas fall within the jurisdiction of the California Department of Transportation.
“We can’t do anything there,” he said. “All we can do is advocate to Caltrans to get something done.
“So if we want to put in a flashing crosswalk, which is probably a great idea, we need to go to Caltrans,” added Zito, who encouraged parents and students to send letters to the agency.
Superintendent Terry Decker said employees such as playground aides who want a few extra hours are used as crossing guards. He said many are still at other locations but because they have no authority to stop or direct traffic they were pulled from the freeway intersections for their own safety.
Students weren’t told not to walk or bike to school, he said. They were told the district didn’t feel it was safe for them to be traveling that corridor on their own.
“It was not a good situation,” he said, noting an increase in traffic in the area. “And that’s not a place you want kids crossing without supervision.”
Decker met with city officials and Sheriff’s Department representatives four days after the council meeting to discuss options, including increased education for parents, students and motorist about safe crossing procedures.
“When they’re at a signal they need to wait until the walking signal changes and look both ways,” Decker said. “Just because the signal changes doesn’t mean it’s safe to move. When it’s flashing, don’t step off the curb. That means the light is about to turn red.”
Decker said students must put all electronic devices such as phones and headphones away “so they’re concentrating on where they are.” They should also try to make eye contact with drivers.
He said a law enforcement presence will increase at the freeway intersections and safety efforts will be stepped up on Stevens Avenue at San Rodolfo Drive in front of the temporary campus at Earl Warren Middle School.
He said the city is looking at changing the timing of traffic lights and prohibiting right turns on red lights during school hours at that location.
Decker said the district is also looking into hiring professional crossing guards or creating a dedicated position to ensure proper training and an understanding of traffic patterns.
“There’s no single answer,” he said. “It takes the community collectively working on safety. A big piece is making sure everyone is engaged.”
Skyline, which is west of I-5, is somewhat unique in that it serves students in grades four through six. Youngsters in kindergarten through third grade attend Solana Vista on the east side of the freeway. So families zoned for those campuses will at some point have to cross in front of the on- and off-ramps to get to the schools.
And doing it without having to get in a car is something 7-year-old Tessa Koff is looking forward to.
“I want to walk or ride my bike safely to Skyline one day,” the current Solana Vista student said.