This school year, parents near 83rd Street and Juniper Lane are worried about their kids.
The crosswalk they use to walk to school at Briarwood Elementary in Prairie Village is without a crossing guard for the first time in years. And without anyone to direct traffic, drivers are ignoring the crosswalk and the small children trying to negotiate the morning rush hour, they say.
Briarwood Principal Kent Peach has already heard from several concerned parents.
“It can be scary,” Peach said. “People are flying through the crosswalk and not slowing down.”
Police and city officials say the situation on Juniper Lane is a common one across Johnson County and the metro area, especially at this time of year. Drivers who haven’t seen children with backpacks along city streets all summer more often fail to recognize school zones and crossings in September.
Amy Barickman of Prairie Village lives near the crosswalk, and her daughter Emma, a fifth-grader at Briarwood, is one of a handful of children who use it. When school started again, she noted the absence of the crossing guard, saw drivers blowing through the crosswalk, and became alarmed.
“It seems like no one in Kansas City realizes that you’re supposed to stop,” Barickman said.
Trying to find a way to make the crosswalk safer, she contacted principal Peach, city officials and the police.
She said the police have been responsive, but she’s not likely to see a new crossing guard any time soon.
Crossing guards in the Shawnee Mission School District work for the local city governments. The cities use pedestrian and traffic statistics to determine where crossing guards are needed, and any changes must go through a public city council meeting.
The Prairie Village City Council relocated the crossing guard from Juniper Lane to another post last year because there weren’t enough children using Barickman’s crosswalk. The minimum is 15. After one crossing guard retired, and with no new locations, Prairie Village has seven crossing guards – one fewer than last year.
Other cities in the county also make decisions based on use and need. Overland Park employs 55 crossing guards and is recruiting more.
But if drivers need someone in a uniform at the crosswalk as a reminder to yield, police say they can respond to that.
Sgt. James Carney of the Prairie Village Police Department’s traffic unit sends additional officers to patrol school zones at the beginning of each new school year, when drivers are most likely to ignore the rules.
He said the crosswalk at 83rd and Juniper Lane is a typical example, and he’s had officers posted there several mornings in the past two weeks.
Since school started, they have written $110 tickets for at least 12 drivers who failed to yield to schoolchildren at the crosswalk.
The police also have set up an automated speed check sign near the intersection to alert drivers if they are going too fast.
In Prairie Village, like the rest of Johnson County, state law governs crosswalks:
“When traffic-control signals are not in place or not in operation the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way, slowing down or stopping if need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.”
For Sgt. Carney, the law is simple, he said. Drivers must stop and yield the right of way to pedestrians waiting at a crosswalk, if they can do so safely.
“It seems like common sense,” he said.
Even so, he said, Carney suspects some drivers will continue to misunderstand — or ignore — the rules, and his officers will keep writing tickets.
Jenny Spencer, another Prairie Village mother who lives right at the corner of 83rd Street and Juniper Lane, has asked the city for a traffic signal at the crosswalk by filing a request with the chief of police and the City Council.
She’s hoping for a signal of the kind used elsewhere in the metro area, with flashing lights and a button for pedestrians to activate.
Spencer said her only concern is to make the intersections safe again. The speed of cars passing through it now makes her anxious.
“If a child gets hit on 83rd Street, it will be a fatality,” she said. “It will be a tragedy.”