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Rye City Council and School Board Tackle Pedestrian Safety

Both bodies held a joint meeting Tuesday in front of a jam-packed audience

In the wake of several traffic accidents involving Rye students, the Rye City Council and Board of Education held a joint meeting Tuesday to discuss ongoing pedestrian safety issues in the city.

Dozens of residents and concerned parents filled a room at Rye Middle School to hear school and city officials give an overview of traffic improvements projects at each of the city's public schools.

Mayor Doug French said the city is going forward with many stimulus-funded projects that will improve traffic conditions, but acknowledged that both the board and council will need the public's help to address ongoing issues.

"We welcome public comment, but we also require public commitment because if we're going to make the necessary changes, it also going to require change in our behavior," French said. "We need to look at our cell phone usage, texting, speeding, our driving habits and our drop-off habits [at schools]."

All of the city's public schools will get safety upgrades likely sometime this year.  Assistant City Manager Scott Pickup led the presentation of traffic improvements at each school.

At Osborn School, which Pickup said is not a hotspot for accidents, the city has proposed a modified traffic diet, narrowing four lanes to three in the area around Sonn Drive and Boston Post Road, with one lane heading southbound and two lanes heading northbound. The diet will ease parking and congestion issues when parents pick up their children from school, Pickup said.

Pickup said the council has set aside $45,000 worth of sidewalk improvements funds in its most recent budget for the Osborn area, but that the modified diet would require additional money, so the city would have to weigh cost estimates at its next meeting on Feb. 24.

Other schools in the district have less challenging issues.

"Milton [School] presents the least amount of thru traffic concerns," Pickup said. 

He said the school's issues are not related to traffic volume or speeding, but that signs around the area need to be more legible and comprehensible for drivers. The city will also perform crosswalk projects on Hewlett and Forest Avenues, but these plans may not begin until the fall, he said.

At the Rye High School and Rye Middle School campus, the biggest concerns are parking issues. Both schools' enrollment will increase and that will worsen the problem. Pickup said the city is weighing alternative parking sites for students and faculty in the future, either at the snow field opposite Boston Post Road or elsewhere.

Perhaps the lengthiest part of the meeting concerned Midland School, which has had several students involved in traffic accidents in recent years. In 2006, 10-year-old Jarrid Amico was killed during non-school hours while riding his bike, and on Jan. 7, Christofer Moreira, a fourth grader at Midland, suffered minor injuries after being hit by a car.

The Midland Avenue corridor currently has a myriad of traffic issues, such as congestion during school pick-up and drop-off hours, difficulty for residents getting into and out of their driveways, speeding and crosswalk issues.

French said the city has already made some improvements in the area by restricting parking on a portion of Midland's east side. The city is slated to spend  $1.9 million in capital improvement and stimulus funds for pedestrian safety projects, some of which will go to improvements in the Midland corridor. Four speed indicators will be installed in March, one of which will be 200 feet from the intersection of Midland and Palisades Road, the site of both Amico's and Moreira's accidents.

Jarrid's father, Jim Amico, whose efforts to get a stop sign installed at the intersection were delayed at the council's most recent meeting, spoke at the joint session Tuesday and suggested that parents play a larger role in pedestrian safety improvements. He suggested training parents as crossing guards and asking them to volunteer for an extra 30 minutes after school to help children safely cross the street.

"I think it's vital that the community get together and volunteer," Amico said.

Amico said Rye Police need to step up traffic enforcement in the area and asked why Rye Police Commissioner William Connors, who hit a 14-year-old Resurrection Middle School student with his police car last week, did not attend the joint meeting to discuss police efforts to improve traffic conditions.

Mayor French responded by saying that Connors was not invited to the meeting because the joint body wanted to focus on engineering and education solutions to pedestrian safety issues.

"Traditionally Rye has been over the past 22 years--it's been more of a passive enforcement attitude. The police commissioner recognizes that, the city manager recognizes that and this council recognizes that," French said. "We have had an orientation with him [Connors] on the matter and I think we'll come back and have something specific just for enforcement."

Though enforcement is one piece of the puzzle, French said the city and school district should work on educating students, parents and the general public.

Both School Board President Josh Nathan and Superintendent Edward Shine said the district has tried to use accidents involving students as a way to educate other children about traffic safety. The district and the city are also involved in New York State's Safe Routes to Schools program, which encourages educating the public about traffic safety and generating enforcement and engineering solutions to these issues.

"I know we use unfortunate incidents as teachable moments in the schools," School Board president Josh Nathan said.

Shine said the district will also make efforts to ease traffic issues in the Midland corridor by considering staggered schedules for students, so that fewer children are crossing the street at one time.

Though the city and district are making efforts to educate students and parents, one Midland School parent, Charmian Neary, said those efforts should be more focused on the general public.

"Rather than teaching children to get out of the way of cars, we need to teach cars to get out of the way of children," Neary said.

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