Simplified: Two days after Sioux Falls Simplified first reported parents' concerns about students crossing Highway 11 to get to the new Ben Reifel Middle School, Principal Shane Hieronimus announced plans for a one-year solution.
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Parents last week said they didn't want kids to have to cross six lanes of 55 mph traffic on their walk to the new school, which opens this fall.
Hieronimus initially responded last Wednesday afternoon by reminding parents that Sioux Falls public schools already go beyond state requirements for busing, and that they could charge for busing but choose not to.
Two days later, on March 5, an email was sent to parents with an update and details on the one-year planned solution.
"It is the primary goal of all to establish a safe route to school for students living in the Ben Reifel walk area west of Hwy 11," the email read.
What's in the plan?
- The city will install a Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon at 41st Street and Manifold (the entrance to Harmodon Park) for students to safely cross 41st street from the north.
- The school district will shuttle students from that Harmodon Park entrance area across Highway 11 before and after school.
- The city will also install speed advisory signs that will flash lights 20 minutes before and after school to north and southbound traffic on the highway.
Why it matters:
- The one-year plan addresses parents' main concern about children safely crossing Highway 11.
- This isn't a permanent solution, though. Hieronimus noted that district and city officials met last week, and they agreed that, until the school opens, it's hard to know how it'll affect traffic patterns.
- There are also some unanswered questions. Will the shuttle make multiple trips? How many kids can fit? Will bike racks be available for kids who have to bike to the pickup spot?
What parents are saying:
"I think like everyone else I am satisfied with the quick response to parent concerns and the genuine effort to make a suitable short term resolution," said parent Rachelle Smith, who will have an incoming sixth grader in 2022.
Parent Sarah Sporrer, one of those initially raising the issue to district and local media attention, said she's grateful to the city and school officials for this temporary solution.
"I appreciate the fact that they listened," she said. "It’s a temporary solution to a long-term issue ... but now we just have to keep working to get a long-term solution."
What happens next?
The plan will be shared with the PATH committee – a group of city, school and community representatives that advocates for school traffic safety – at its March 11 meeting. That group, along with city and district officials, will plan to study traffic and pedestrian patterns during the 2021-22 school year, per the email.
Then, they'll make recommendations for a more permanent solution. It's unclear what exactly that will look like, but parents have suggested the following:
- Extend busing areas
- Slower speed limits
- Continue the shuttle
- Build a safe path across the street by way of an overpass or tunnel.