As a mother of two young girls, I have often walked or biked with my daughters and their friends to school. We chose to live in our neighborhood in part because of its proximity to schools. It feels great to be outdoors in the fresh air, starting our day by greeting other students along the way. But there was one particular spot near Foothill Middle School where we often found ourselves stranded, unable to cross the street or safely walk/bike along the busy road with no sidewalk. "Why isn't there a crosswalk here?" I thought, as I watched young kids sprint across that same spot on my way back from Walnut Acres Elementary. It seemed so simple and obvious, as if I could just grab some paint and create one myself.
I met other people who were concerned too, including parents of kids who had been hit or nearly hit while crossing streets in the neighborhood. It was clear that we needed additional precautions in place so our children could safely get to school.
So in May 2015, a group of us attended a city meeting to tell them exactly where that crosswalk was needed, along with the other key improvements. (photos are my daughter Iris participating in the meeting).
But nothing happened.
Eventually we decided we needed to show that this concern was held by more than just a few of us, so in November I sent out a change.org petition to our entire neighborhood that spelled out our specific requests, addressed to the city transportation director. 180 people signed it, and the director got right back to me!
It turns out he agreed with the need for these improvements, and had already submitted 6 grants that were each denied. Where could we find the funding? Determined to find a way, we brought together a team of key stakeholders at our local bagel shop, to work towards a solution. It was a challenging task, but by collaborating with the principals of both schools, PTA leaders, parents and neighbors, we prioritized the items, discussed regulations, and weighed trade-offs. City staff figured out what smaller items could roll into regular maintenance, and got one grant successfully approved. We timed the rest of the work with the previously planned road re-pavements.
Within 1 year, a digital speed sign and temporary improvements were in place. Within 2 years, construction was complete including two new flashing pedestrian beacons, three new crosswalks, a new bike lane on Cedro, digital speed signs, and sidewalk bulbouts that slow down cars and create safer and shorter crossings for pedestrians. And now, on Wednesday October 4th, we will celebrate, on National Walk to School Day!
I wrote the petition and persisted in keeping the group going to the end, but the biggest lesson I learned was that this is definitely not the kind of thing that any one person can do alone. It was ONLY successful because of the many people who took on key roles along the way, and who found consensus between schools and neighbors on all the nitty gritty details. We cannot expect a single city engineer to somehow intuit what is best for a particular neighborhood - they need community input as well - and as the director told us, our coalition paved the way for success.
When I first sent out that change.org petition two years ago, I had no idea that nearly 200 people would sign it, and that city staff would work so closely and cooperatively with us to bring our vision to a reality. Each and every one of you who signed, supported, met, shared feedback... this could not have been done without you. I am thrilled that the improvements are completed and helping our kids get to school safely! Seeing the photo of my daughter 2 years ago drawing in the ideas on the map brings tears to my eyes, as I am so thankful that people really can come together to make things better for everyone. It is true that Together We Can!
Thanks to our Coalition team: Principal Bush, Principal Dowd, Transportation staff Rafat Raie and Alex Wong, PFC/A Presidents Cherise Khaund and Anna Saunders, parents Ajit Chakradeo, Brooke Giddings, Jill Ridlehoover, Mike Seftchick, Ann Marie Titterton, Elizabeth Salmon-Omski, Linda Vanderjagt. and to StreetSmarts Diablo for providing our Walk n Roll to School Day prizes!