The Street Under Heat

Riley Breslin

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Student safety should be a top priority of a school administration. Unfortunately, Peterson Middle School students’ safety is jeopardized by the intersection at El Camino Real and Poplar Avenue. On Monday, the twenty-eighth of October, a car accident injured three Peterson students before school as they crossed El Camino Real on Poplar Avenue. The accident highlighted issues with the intersection that parents have been pointing out for years. This past decade, concerned parents have tried to reach the city with complaints and improve pedestrian safety at the intersection. The recent accident has brought to the public eye the severity of the problems at the intersection and has increased parents’ resolve to make changes.
El Camino Real is a dangerous thoroughfare. The speed limit is forty miles per hour, however, many cars exceed this. With Peterson Middle School on one side of the road and a large neighborhood on the other side, this crosswalk is met with many pedestrians and bikers every day. This crosswalk is hazardous in many ways. The traffic light changes quickly and the crosswalk is hardly visible to drivers, which makes it more likely that pedestrians will get hit. There is no crossing guard to protect students who are crossing the intersection before and after school. This concerns many parents, including Kathy Gottfried, a parent of a child who attends Peterson Middle School. She explains,“We as parents should feel safe sending our children to school. Many cities up and down the El Camino Real corridor provide crossing guards or some other safety measures to ensure kids arrive at school safely. Why should Peterson Middle School be the exception?”
In 2012, a City of Sunnyvale Comprehensive School Traffic Study examined El Camino’s intersections. The study compiled years of data regarding traffic accidents and concluded that the points where Poplar Avenue and Henderson Avenue intersected El Camino had “high crash rates.” A group of parents whose children attend Peterson were angered by the school’s lack of concern for the childrens’ safety, and formed The Steering Committee to put pressure on the school and the government to recognize their concerns. The Steering Committee documents parents’ concerns, evidence that the crosswalk is unsafe, and contacts individuals and organizations in an effort to get their concerns resolved. The goal of the committee is to identify the correct steps that should be taken and do whatever is necessary to achieve safety for the children who cross El Camino every day.
The process of making adaptations to the intersection is an ongoing struggle. Rafi Cohen, a member of the Steering Committee, described how his and other parents’concerns have been disregarded by the city. He explains, “For the past ten years, many different citizens have tried to speak with the city, speak with CalTrans, and speak with the Santa Clara Unified School District. We have not yet reached the city and convinced it to make changes.” Citizens’ actions have not yet resulted in change because neither the Santa Clara Unified School District nor the Sunnyvale City Council is willing to take responsibility for the issues with intersection. According to Cohen,“The city is saying that the school needs to pay for this, and it is the school district’s issue. The city is trying to avoid paying for the intersection, but the school district is saying that the city needs to pay for the intersection because it is a city-wide problem.”
Another worried parent, Kristen Manies, created a petition to spur the city to action. She recounts, “I became involved because one night at dinner my kids were talking about how they count to three before crossing El Camino Real on their way to and from school because so many cars run red lights. I thought that was horrible. What if they’re a bit spacey one day and forget to count to three? What about new kids to the school who don’t know to count to three?” Manies talked to other parents and found that they had been putting in efforts to improve the crossing area for years, and nothing had come out of it. She explained, “I was hoping a more public shaming campaign would help spur the Sunnyvale City Council into action. So I created a change.org petition.” So far, the petition has more than two thousand signatures.
While the issue of safety at the El Camino and Poplar intersection remains unresolved, it is important that students and parents remain conscious of potential hazards while they wait for action to improve the intersection.