Parent group re-energizes traffic safety discussion after student accident
It has often been said that the squeaky wheel gets the oil. Perhaps the sound of screeching tires can do the same when it comes to generating attention. At least that’s what a group of Daniel Island parents concerned about traffic safety is hoping.
On January 20, a seventh grade Daniel Island School student was struck by a car on her way to school while riding her bike across a crosswalk at the intersection of Pierce Street and Daniel Island Drive. Fortunately, the girl was not seriously injured and is “doing fine” according to her mother (who preferred not to be identified). But the impact suffered by the student is still being felt in other ways.
“She is physically fine, by the grace of God and her guardian angels,” the mother said. “But she was thrown off her bike and onto the pavement….We have gone through a range of emotions, from shock, to grateful, to gratitude, and to anger.”
The girl’s mother praised local emergency personnel, and Daniel Island School Principal Marty French, for responding quickly to the scene. She also stated that there used to be a police crossing guard at the intersection, which is not considered an official “school safety zone” area, but an officer has not been present there in recent months.
“There was a police man posted at that intersection last year, and we just felt so much safer,” she continued. “I think that’s why a lot of kids still cross there…There is no designated ‘school zone’ in this area. The most surprising thing to me is that they have been pursuing (traffic safety improvements) for years, for changes to be implemented. It took my daughter being hit to make me realize the work that they have been tirelessly doing, and that nothing has been done.”
According to Principal French, there are about 250 students per day who ride bikes to school and at least that many who walk. The greatest danger doesn’t seem to lie around the immediate grounds of the school, she said, but in the passage down Daniel Island Drive and into the neighborhoods.
“I believe a safe passage to and from school should stay on our mind continuously,” French added. “When we fall into daily habits, we become less aware of our actions because they become rote; anything we can do to make our drivers more alert in the mornings would advance the safety for our school children.”
Police have been working with DIS, concerned parents, and other officials to enhance traffic safety and have taken part in several community meetings on the subject, as reported in previous issues of The Daniel Island News. But those efforts have focused largely on the areas in close proximity to the school. Island resident, parent and safety advocate Carina Buckman thinks the target zone should be extended. Last week, she posted a message on the Daniel Island Moms Facebook Page asking for the community to re-energize on the issue.
“Since nothing has been done over the last year to improve safety within the Daniel Island School zone, despite significant public efforts, a group of concerned residents are again escalating the issue,” she wrote.
The Daniel Island School “has stepped up massively in past years” to boost safety measures, Buckman said. But she sees a number of risks that she believes should be addressed by the community and other officials, including parking within the school zone, near intersections and crosswalks; drivers not yielding at crosswalks; traffic lights at crosswalks giving pedestrians and vehicles a green light at the same time; and increased cell phone usage.
“We get a lot of ‘You need to learn to behave and drive properly’,” said Buckman, who reports that she sees at least one or two ‘near miss’ accidents a week on the island. “While I do agree with that, we aren’t keeping up with the technology as it’s developing, and the addictive use of cell phones, the pace of life, all feed into a need for us to take a step back and assess whether what we currently have is really meeting the needs of the community. And I think we’re way off the mark.”
Buckman would like to see restrictions on parking and increased enforcement, signage placed inside crosswalks (like those on Sullivan’s Island) asking drivers to yield to pedestrians, changes to traffic light sequencing, and the creation of a legal school zone (that starts at the intersection of Daniel Island Drive and Seven Farms Drive) requiring low speeds and no cell phone usage.
“This isn’t about preventing all accidents,” said Buckman. “It’s just reducing the level to an acceptable level, where hopefully there wouldn’t be any accidents. The current environment is just an accident waiting to happen.”
“I believe a school zone would bring our attention to slowing down and bring our thoughts to the safety of our children,” added French. “A school zone could also decrease the use of cell phones which would help drivers maintain focus on the road and pedestrians. I appreciate the focus on safety and our children, it does reflect the caring spirit of our community.”
Daniel Island resident Andrea Kelly has also been a longtime advocate for traffic safety in and around the school. Her passion for the issue was sparked in part by an accident in 2014 involving a boy who was hit by a car while riding a skateboard through the intersection of Pierce Street and Barfield Street. She encouraged all drivers to use common sense when parking and or driving in an area where young children are traversing.
“Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it is safe or courteous,” she said. “Stop and ask yourself if your convenience is worth another person’s safety.”
Kelly said there are a number of ways residents can voluntarily assist in keeping all community members safer, including parking in your driveways as much as possible and avoiding parking along blind curves on streets or adjacent to intersections and crosswalks. She also suggested that if parking is allowed on both sides of a street, drivers should not park directly across from another parked car.
“And remember, if a car is parked in your lane and two cars can’t pass safely at the same time, you must pull over and yield to the oncoming car,” Kelly added.
Buckman said a road study was supposed to have been initiated by the City of Charleston last year and was intended to provide data on whether the current infrastructure is meeting the community’s needs. When The Daniel Island News contacted the city to inquire about the study, Communications Director Jack O’Toole reached out to Traffic and Transportation Director Hernan Pena to find out the status of the effort.
“There was some talk of a study, but one was never initiated,” said O’Toole, referencing his conversation with Pena. “However, after reviewing the situation, Mr. Pena thinks a study would be a sensible thing to do and he plans to conduct one over next two to three weeks.”
O’Toole said the results of the study would be made available to the public within 30 days. Pena also noted that he found the idea of putting “yield to pedestrian” signs inside crosswalks an interesting one, and one that had not been suggested to him before. According to O’Toole, Pena promised to look into it further.
In the meantime, Buckman is putting together a group of parents and other community members to advance the discussion on traffic safety. Anyone interested in joining the committee, or sharing expertise, is asked to send an email to Buckman at email@example.com. The topic is also scheduled to be addressed at the February 2 meeting of the Daniel Island Neighborhood Association. She hoped the community would get engaged in any and all opportunities to draw attention to the issue.
“We need people to turn out,” she said. “When nobody turns out that inadvertently communicates you don’t care…To make a positive change, it’s going to take a significant community effort to push action through.”