Traffic around Longfellow Middle School will see some changes after a group of students took matters into their own hands.
Six seventh-grade students — Lilly Ackerman, Grace Blegen, Belle Giese, Story Nelson, Elizabeth Kowalski and Nikki Chandana — spent three months researching options to make it safer for their fellow students to cross the street at the intersections surrounding the school. They shared their findings with La Crosse Board of Public Works Monday, which voted unanimously to accept their recommendation to add school zone and pedestrian crossing signs.
The group surveyed 200 students. Seventy-two percent said they feel unsafe crossing the street, and 24 percent reported incidents of almost getting hit by a car.
“We appreciate the work that has already been done by adding signs, but the new work isn’t addressing the current issue,” said Nelson. “The most dangerous places are on 20th and Denton, and 20th and Redfield going east to west.”
The students recommended adding five school-zone speed limit signs, including one on each corner surrounding the school. They also suggested additional stop signs going both ways at the intersections of 20th and Denton and 20th and Redfield streets, and seven permanent pedestrian-crossing signs. They also requested three additional moveable signs to sit in the middle of the road and remind drivers that state law requires them to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk.
“We really need these signs to be placed in the specific locations we have asked for because we don’t want our lives in jeopardy any longer. We feel it’s better to be safe than to be sorry,” said Chandana.
It’s not the first time the board has taken a look at the traffic around the South Side middle school. In August, the board voted to shift the orientation of the stop signs at 21st and 22nd on Redfield, changing them from north-south stops to east-west to require drivers headed either way down Redfield Street to stop, as well as look into adding bump-outs and other permanent traffic calming measures.
However, students in Jeanne Halderson’s class felt more could be done, especially after comparing the number of signs around their middle school with those around the district’s other schools.
La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat and council member Paul Medinger toured the school earlier this month to get a first-hand look of the problems facing Longfellow students.
“It was good to actually see what you were talking about and get a picture of that. We did see cars go by at high rates of speed and we did look around for some school signs. It did look like we need to address some situations around there,” Medinger said.
Halderson was proud to see her students go above and beyond to make a positive change in their community.
“I think it says a lot about our kids that they’ve been really careful and they knew that this was a problem,” she said.
Students monitored traffic, researched traffic engineering solutions and determined what would be the best solutions for their school.
City planner Jason Gilman said the proposal made sense and could help draw traffic away from the school.
“The less convenient you make these through, local streets, the more likely people are going to move toward a major artery or arterial,” he said, saying people will likely start taking Green Bay Street to avoid the multiple stops and slow zones.
The students are tackling the problem from multiple angles, with some creating public service announcements to explain the rules of the road and others working on a presentation to take to the Longfellow Parent-Teacher Organization to make the building stand out more as a school and remind drivers that children are present.
“They’ve put a lot of work and thought into it, and it’s been a lot of extra work that you wouldn’t typically see a seventh-grader doing,” Halderson said.
The students were thrilled that the adults listened to them and accepted their recommendation.
The board also voted to undo the reorientation of the stop signs after neighbors complained that they were too confusing and didn’t seem to do much to help.