After two accidents, parents push to make Cary High crosswalk safer

aspecht@newsobserver.com swolford@newsobserver.comNovember 25, 2013 

— Madyson Longtin stood on the curb of Walnut Street outside Cary High School and watched traffic pass by.

“Speeding,” she said, pointing to a car as it whizzed by.

“Speeding,” she said again of another car. “Speeding, speeding, speeding.”

Longtin and fellow Cary High student Brittney Shiepko, both 16, know the crosswalk outside the school can be dangerous. On Nov. 5, they were struck by a car as they tried to cross Walnut Street during their lunch break.

Cary police charged the driver, Michael Lee Travis, 53, of Raleigh, with failure to yield. Under state law, drivers must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.

This was the second accident in the crosswalk this school year that injured Cary High students. In August, 17-year-old Islom Juraev was struck by a car while in the crosswalk on his bike. He suffered a broken leg and was hospitalized for several days.

Longtin suffered a broken foot as a result of her accident. Shiepko’s head hit the car’s windshield, and the impact knocked out two front teeth.

Now the teens and their families are pushing for the school and the town of Cary to make the crosswalk safer.

Making upgrades likely won’t be quick or easy, however. The state Department of Transportation, which maintains Walnut Street, plans to coordinate a traffic study with the town, but it’s unclear whether N.C. DOT, the town or the school system can or will pay for safety upgrades.

Some precautions already are in place. Signs indicate the school zone and the location of the crosswalk. In the morning and afternoon, the speed limit between the school and Cary Towne Center is 25 mph.

And in recent years, a gate was installed along both sides of the road to funnel would-be jaywalkers to the crosswalk.

Before this year, there had been one other accident since 2008, according to Cary police records. It was not fatal.

“The crosswalk has worked quite well,” said David Spencer, an engineer for Cary. “Usually, people make the right decision.”

Relying on drivers and students to make the right decision doesn’t sit well with Cary High Principal Nolan Bryant.

Bryant sometimes takes his whistle out to Walnut Street and directs traffic, but his schedule doesn’t allow for that every day, and he’s reluctant to ask a teacher to do it because the road isn’t within the school’s jurisdiction.

In addition, the task can be dangerous.

After school on a recent Thursday, a driver in a minivan screeched to a halt just feet from a student. Such close calls happen “all the time,” said Andrew Hartman, a student standing nearby at the time.

“We at least need a cop to stop traffic,” said student Meli Markham.

The Cary Police Department doesn’t have the resources to assign officers to traffic duty at each school, said Lt. Steve Wilkins.

Bryant’s idea: Install a pedestrian stoplight or hire a crossing guard. But the school doesn’t have much money for such a project, he said.

In the meantime, some Cary High students are working on a public service announcement on crosswalk etiquette, Bryant said.

But it’s not enough for the teens’ mothers, Cheryl Ammons-Longtin and Nadine Shiepko. If they don’t see rumble strips, flashing lights or a crossing guard soon, they said, they might take their case to the school board and the Cary Town Council.

Ammons-Longtin said she has had enough after what she saw this month.

“I was standing there, looking at my daughter’s blood on the crosswalk, and the cars were still whizzing by,” she said.

Meanwhile, Wilkins doesn’t subscribe to the power of a sign.

“You can put up all the signs in the world,” he said, “but if drivers don’t yield to walkers, what’s another sign gonna do?”

 

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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