Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.
By Michael Gold
Drivers fly down the road, break the speed limit, make illegal turns, run red lights, roll through stop signs, inch into crosswalks while children are there, lean on their horns and sometimes foul the air with expletives.
While most drivers are courteous, the roughly behaved minority sting.
This is the life of a school crossing guard, a vital, often unappreciated job. They stand in the middle of the road, bravely facing off against an ongoing stream of two-ton vehicles and helping get our kids safely to school.
I interviewed three crossing guards to tell their stories, anonymously, to learn the problems they face and how they can be addressed. One was stationed by an elementary school, another worked at the intersection by a middle school and high school and the third one stood at the light on a state parkway.
The first one I spoke with laughed when I asked him what challenges he faces. Let’s call him Alex.
“The cars are disrespectful,” he said. “They don’t honor the crosswalk. They just fly down the road. Teachers and kids are standing here, and the cars cross the walk line, regardless of the signs.”
Also, a few commuters curse and call Alex an idiot, with an expletive in front, or give him the middle finger, amid a line of cars 15 cars long, with parents dropping off their children.
“Commuters don’t understand what the hold-up is,” Alex said. “Around 8:15, we have a big traffic standstill. A lot of times, it’s the same commuters every day who are impatient.”
His advice to these drivers? Come five minutes earlier or later. The line of cars piling up every day at the same time in the same place is as predictable as someone’s birthday.
A blinking yellow light might help, Alex said, “to give another layer of caution.”
“Speeding is the number one challenge,” said the second crossing guard, who we’ll call Bella.
“Brightly-colored crossing signs are not working. They don’t stop people from speeding. I’m shocked there hasn’t been an accident. People are getting meaner and uglier. They don’t stop even when my flag is out.”
Bella has seen cars make right-hand turns into the crosswalk, roll through stop signs or inch forward into the crosswalk, even though children are still walking on the white lines of the road to get to the sidewalk. Also, she’s had close calls with cars almost hitting her. Impatient drivers blow their horns, too.
“You blowing your horn doesn’t change what I need to do – which is keep kids safe,” Bella said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m on the Jersey Turnpike.”
She thinks a speed monitor by the sign that says “15 mph – School Zone” might help to track drivers who go too fast. Another possible solution would be for the local police to patrol the area during school arrival and dismissal time.
Bella once considered getting a mannequin, dressing it up as a police officer, and putting it on the corner where she works, to get the drivers to slow down and look.
“Ten percent of the people give you 90 percent of the problems,” she explained.
The other crossing guard I talked to, who works on the parkway, calls his intersection “Death Valley.”
“Where are the cameras? There’s nobody here to monitor it. They take their lives in their hands,” he said, referring to pedestrians.
Six cars made an illegal right turn off the parkway onto a local street just that morning, the crossing guard said. We’ll call him Carl.
“Cars are going 60 to 70 miles an hour,” Carl said. “They (the drivers) just don’t care. Everybody’s in a rush. This is an accident waiting to happen.”
He said he’s seen multiple violations every day, with drivers making illegal turns, jumping lights and going through red lights, while kids and adults are trying to cross a slim white row of boxes to get to school or work.
Carl wants the government to install a speed camera at the intersection.
“They should have put cameras in a long time ago,” he pointed out.
I asked all of them why they stay with the job.
“I love this job with the kids, watching their progression year to year,” Alex said. “I have a good rapport with the parents. The parents bring me hot chocolate and coffee.”
He gives everybody a big hello and they greet him like he’s an old friend.
Bella said she does it because, “I think I make a difference. The respect I get from the kids is marvelous. They say hello to me by name. The kids keep me smiling.”
These people know the most about the possible hazards of traffic intersections, where cars meet children. We owe them the courtesy of listening to their concerns about keeping kids safe.
Pleasantville-based writer Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, The Virginian-Pilot, The Palm Beach Post, other newspapers and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal.
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