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Injured boy re-ignites South Temple crosswalk concerns

Published May 18, 2014 8:49 pm

Safety • Parents have said for years that the street is too dangerous for schoolchildren.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A third-grader hit in the crosswalk near Wasatch Elementary on Wednesday has reignited concerns about a dangerous street.

The 9-year-old boy was leaving school Wednesday afternoon and started crossing South Temple at the 1200 East crosswalk. Other cars stopped, but a westbound car ran into him, said police Salt Lake City police Detective Veronica Montoya.

"Our school, any school's worst nightmare was realized," said Principal Julie Miller.

The driver was cited for failure to yield and the boy was taken to the hospital with a broken wrist. Though the boy had been holding a crosswalk flag to draw attention to himself, it's possible the driver did not see the boy because of the other cars, Miller said.

Parents have been concerned for years that South Temple is too dangerous for their children, about 450 of whom attend the school, which sits away from the street and out of sight, and seemingly out of mind, to the drivers who speed along the major thoroughfare.

When Tory Magleby's eldest son attended the school several years ago, she said she saw people almost get hit in the crosswalk nearly every day.

"Many people told us, 'We didn't know there was a school there,' " Miller said.

The detached playground is obvious, but Wasatch Elementary is tucked away on R Street. Some drivers zoom at up to 60 mph on South Temple , which now has a posted speed limit of half that, Miller added.

The city has been steadily trying to improve safety on the street. There is a tunnel under South Temple — but it has stairs-only access that is prohibitive to the disabled and unattractive to the elderly, parents with strollers and bikers.

Several years ago, the city put in feedback signs — which tell drivers how fast they are going. Last year, the city conducted a traffic study, reduced the speed limit from 35 mph to 30 mph and put in rapid flashing lights to draw attention to the crosswalk.

Still, the 9-year-old boy was hit.

The school and the city hope that a new traffic signal at 1100 East will help. The signal received funding just a few months ago and will be installed this fall, said Salt Lake City Transportation Director Robin Hutcheson. The city also plans on asking the police department to issue more speeding tickets.

"The city has been responsive. … They obviously have to weigh our needs versus other pleas," Miller said. "Sometimes you have to get in the queue."

For the school's part, they try to talk to students once a week about using the tunnel when possible, Miller said. The school is also asking parents to not block the crosswalks with their cars and to consider parking a little farther away to ease congestion.

The 1100 East crosswalk is "constantly blocked by parked or waiting cars, making it even more difficult for drivers to see pedestrians," according to an e-mail from Miller.

But the school and parents like Magleby, who still has three children at Wasatch Elementary, would like to see the local government do more — specifically, that the city turn that stretch of South Temple into a designated school zone. The school has asked for it, but unfortunately, the area does not meet state criteria, largely because of the tunnel, Hutcheson said.

When the city conducted the traffic study last year, they counted only so many people using the crosswalk and many more taking the underground passage. Not enough people were trying to cross South Temple to meet the criteria for the rezoning.

"We've heard that argument before," said Miller, who wants to see the city find a way to make the rezoning happen. If not, she said, there are parents who are raising the specter of a lawsuit.

As of Thursday afternoon, Hutcheson and her colleagues were discussing another possibility: moving the flashing lights to 1200 East once the light at 1100 East has been installed. The move could make that block of South Temple safer, though it was not immediately clear whether the infrastructure will allow for it, Hutcheson said.

In the meantime, the school has been counseling the children, some of whom were clearly traumatized after Wednesday's accident, Miller said.

"It shook up our entire community," she said. "Our entire community grieves with the family."

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda