When Kathy Egan moved to the Wasatch Front from Atlanta, her children were excited to live close enough to walk to school.
But they didn't know the short walk to Granite Elementary School would be an obstacle course along a narrow street with no sidewalks and traffic that included construction trucks.It's an obstacle course that, according to another parent, Lacey Ence, has resulted in three children being hit by cars in recent years, including one struck in the head by the rear-view mirror of a passing car. All suffered minor injuries.
"I walked my kindergartner to school the first day and was furious," she said, describing the walk along 3100 East near 9600 South. "I'm absolutely appalled that the safety of children walking to school is even an issue in this state."
But it is an issue. And it's one that keeps getting bigger as more and more parents along the Wasatch Front see how people who complain seem to get the attention of government officials.
"The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and we're going to squeak until something gets done," Egan said.
When Egan and other concerned parents from her neighborhood approached the Salt Lake County Commission earlier this week, the public works director told them their area was about 20th on the list of sidewalk priorities and that the county wouldn't get to it for five or six years.
County Traffic Engineer Larry Becknell said the county has established a system of ranking areas in need of sidewalks, taking into account the amount of traffic, the average number of pedestrians and the number of accidents, among other things. Nearly all the top priorities are near schools.
"Frankly, this is an attempt to take a little of the subjectivity out and look at it more objectively and less emotionally," Becknell said of the rating method.
But the system has obvious flaws. The most glaring is that the county is not aware of every area in need of sidewalks. Generally, officials learn about problems when people complain.
"The list could be 20 times as long if we had the time and people to do research," Becknell said, noting that he and one other county employee are the only ones assigned to sidewalk concerns. "We would start by looking at every elementary school in the county."
The county's top sidewalk priority is along a stretch of 3200 West between 4700 South and 5400 South. The area is near Truman Elementary School, where the county, Granite School District and private donations are helping to build a skywalk in response to the recent death of a child struck by a car while walking to school.
Assistant Principal Court DeSpain said many parents now drive their children to school to avoid making them walk along busy streets.
County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi said skywalks are not the answer to the valley's concerns for school safety. (See accompanying list.)
A bill that would have accomplished some of those goals failed to pass the recently completed session of the state Legislature. Horiuchi wants school districts to help pay for the improvements. School officials said they have no money, short of taking funds from books and teacher salaries.
"Traffic safety is easily as important as those other things," Horiuchi said.
And while the parents near Granite Elementary were not happy to hear how low they are on the priority list, they were pleased with what they perceived to be genuine concern by county officials.
"If Salt Lake County can put millions of dollars into the Salt Palace, the least we can do is take care of traffic safety for our children," said County Commission Chairman Jim Bradley.
Salt Lake County's top 10 list of areas in desperate need of sidewalks:1. 1 3200 West between 4700 and 5400 South
2. 6200 South between 2200 and 2305 West
3. 1000 East between 10600 and 10700 South
4. Vine Street between 1600 and 1400 East and 1300 and 900 East
5. 2200 West between 4320 and 4400 South
6. 3100 South between 850 and 9200 West
7. Teakwood Drive between 1675 West and Redwood Road
8. Danish Road between 7800 South and Creek Road
9. 9200 West between 2700 and 3200 South
10. 7200 West between 3500 and 3600 South
Making school zones safer
Salt Lake County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi wants the county, police departments and cities to:
- Install photo-radar equipment at school zones
- Randomly send deputies to school zones to enforce speeding laws
- Shorten school zones so motorists can resume normal speeds after passing crosswalks
- Cut weeds, trees and other vegetation along roadsides without sidewalks
- Put flashing lights on all school zone signs