By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia
Leaders and officials last week discussed city efforts to improve safety for school children in the community.
Transportation Planning Manager Martin Lucero gave a presentation at the April 5 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting at City Hall, 16000 N. Civic Center Plaza, which updated the panel on federally funded studies underway to address traffic safety in school zones.
Using federal grant money from the Federal Highway Administration, city staffers have been studying areas around schools throughout the community to ensure children who live nearby can safely walk or bike there, Mr. Lucero explained.
“Between 2016 and 2022, we have 22 active or programmed activities underneath this umbrella,” Mr. Lucero said. “Most cities in general around our size have maybe one or two programs going … we take a look at existing conditions and try to make improvements where we can, and we try to focus in on every individual area we possibly can.”
With $3.2 million in funding programmed for SRTS activities in Surprise, staffers are assessing local walking and biking facilities and will produce a walking and biking map for residents.
They are also looking at a variety of factors in neighborhoods and along roadways around schools to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists in those areas.
Each study area extends in a one-mile radius around a public or charter school to examine pedestrian and bike activity, both for students and others, to identify needed fixes, Mr. Lucero said.
“We’re also taking a look at each elementary school within the Dysart school district, as well as we’ve already completed four charter schools underneath this program,” Mr. Lucero said. “When we take a look at these studies, at lot of those are taking a look at walking and biking facilities, multimodal facilities, trails, roadway conditions, driveway cuts, signalizations – everything that has to with something moving.”
The SRTS program is currently managed by four staffers, who use only part of their time on the effort. But the city will add up to four new full-time staff positions dedicated to the program for public and charter schools in 2021 and 2022.
As a result of studies so far, city staff are using grant funds to refresh 18 crosswalks around schools, adding new signs and repainting road stripes, Mr. Lucero said.
Planning Commissioner Eric Cultum said he wants to see staff do more now to address traffic congestion around schools and elsewhere, citing some specific problem areas.
“Rosefield on the corner of Cactus and Bullard, with all of the good intentions of what could be done, what might be discussed, counting kids … unless something significantly changes that would be a result of a traffic management plan for that school specifically, we will continue to have vehicles backed up on Cactus and Bullard Road,” Mr. Cultum said. “I don’t see the change and I appreciate that there’s all of these great intentions, but that’s been an issue for 10 years.”
He said the city needs a more aggressive plan to address congestion in addition to considering safety issues around schools.
“I’m more interested in a traffic management plan, something that’s actually going to be a proactive plan to create less congestion,” Mr. Cultum added. “I just don’t see the necessary changes for the sake of safety, and student safety and, really, functional transportation roads.”
Commissioner Dennis Bash sought clarification on staff efforts to track traffic incidents and how well staffers are informed of the current level of need in the community.
“It sounded like you do not routinely look at accident reports from public safety to determine your issues, and specifically I’m talking about vehicular accidents as well as accidents involving pedestrians,” Mr. Bash said.
Mr. Lucero explained that, though he had been unable during the meeting to cite specific monthly numbers of accidents, his department regularly considers accident reports as part of their data-gathering effort. And those reports suggest Surprise is an exceptionally safe city, he added.
“We routinely pull accident reports and I have to utilize those in my reporting,” Mr. Lucero said. “We actually have quite a safe city.”
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