C-U working to make roads safer for children

Crossing+guard+Rose+Hudson+helps+Leeann+Stack+and+her+son+Alex%2C+7%2C+across+Prospect+Street+in+Champaign+by+Bottenfield+Elementary+on+Thursday.+Erica+Magda%0A

Crossing guard Rose Hudson helps Leeann Stack and her son Alex, 7, across Prospect Street in Champaign by Bottenfield Elementary on Thursday. Erica Magda

By Alissa Groeninger

Last year 96 children in the state of Illinois between the ages of 5 and 18 were killed by cars while walking to school. As a result, the Illinois State Board of Education is encouraging schools and police departments to make walking to school as safe as possible.

This push for safety actually began two years ago. Working together, schools and police departments can set up speed zones and make sure signs are posted in advance of the zones.

“We just want to remind drivers that a – you need to slow down in a school speed zone and b – you need to remember (the rules for driving when buses are present),” said Matt Vanover, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education.

Both Champaign and Urbana have been working to make the areas around schools safer for students who walk or bike, although they report there have been no serious accidents involving students walking or biking in years.

“Safety for kids is always an issue on everybody’s minds,” said Joe Davis, interim business manager for Unit 4.

Davis said the city of Champaign and Unit 4 work together. Police and crossing guards help children cross busy streets.

Another important component to children’s safety is crossing guards, Hoyle said. They work few hours for little pay but make a big difference in helping children get to school.

Rose Hudson, a crossing guard and co-chair for the International Walk to School Day, said people who help children in traffic have to stand up for the children and protect their safety.

“I don’t need to be standing out there in the rain and the snow, but I do it for the kids,” she said.

Fourteen years ago Hudson was behind a push to hire crossing guards near Robeson Elementary School because busy roads were built through neighborhoods, increasing the traffic. She said children do not have the depth perception to tell if they should cross; thus adults need to help them.

“They’re not equipped yet to deal with the traffic,” she added.

Both Unit 4 and District 116 in Urbana work with their respective cities to apply for grants. Grant funds can be used to build bike paths and post more signs for school zones.

The cities are participating in the International Walk to School Day for the fifth year. All of the grade schools in Urbana and half of the grade schools in Champaign are participating in the event on Oct. 8. The event has grown every year, with only four schools participating the first year.

“We just took it and ran with it,” Hudson said.

Each school organizes its own event, but most involve a group walk. Elected officials, school administrators, police officers, University student-athletes, parents and kids all walk to the schools together. These events also provide kids, parents and motorists with safety information.

“Walking along the routes gives you a whole new perspective,” said Cynthia Hoyle, transportation planning consultant for Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District and co-chair for the event.

Hoyle and Hudson both worked to make the attention the International Walk to School Day receives occur year-round. They helped Champaign and Urbana secure federal grant funding from the Illinois Department of Transportation for safe routes to school activities. The grant will help buy new road signs that notify drivers of the speed limit, as well as fund a media campaign to put billboards, commercials and newspaper stories in place to remind people to watch out for children.

Hudson said programs for after school programs and guest speakers are also being planned.

“It’s really become a community effort to make sure that our kids are safe around the schools,” Hudson said.