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Students walk unpaved, unsafe paths to East High

By ERICA RODRIGUEZ
Sept. 21, 2010 at 4:21 a.m.

Victoria East High School students crossing Mockingbird Lane at Carriage Park Drive have to run a gauntlet of vehicles entering and leaving the campus. The intersection does not have marked crosswalks for students to enter and walk to school.

PETITIONYou can contact Victoria Valdez about her petition to the school district and the city at 2010petition@live.com.

Lorenzo Guerro, an East High School junior, walks nearly two miles in streets with no sidewalks and crosses four lanes of John Stockbauer Drive to get to and from school.

"If there's any kids here that have to walk, I feel for them too," he said, as he made his way down Mockingbird Lane.

At the edge of the East campus parking lot, Jonathan Madrak, a sophomore, swats at mosquitoes after walking down Leary Lane.

"There's no sidewalk, which is really dumb," he said, describing his route to school.

At the school's entrance at Mockingbird Lane and Carriage Drive, students pause for traffic before walking across the five-lane road with no crosswalk during the afternoons. Students also make their way down Mockingbird Lane walking in grassy and often muddy conditions.

The students are among many who are not eligible for bus transportation at the campus because they live within two miles of the school.

Not a hazardous route

Students can be eligible for bus service even if they live within the two-mile zone if their route to school is deemed hazardous. A hazardous route would require students to cross a major thoroughfare, a bridge with no pedestrian walkway or a highway with no controlled intersection.

"The shortest walking route may be hazardous," said Diane Boyett, communications specialist with the district. "Another route however may exist, and that route does not make the commute longer than two miles."

The school district advises students to cross streets at intersections and crosswalks, yet doing so involves adding nearly a mile to routes or walking through unpaved areas.

Students walking from surrounding neighborhoods cross the four-lane John Stockbauer Drive near the Lone Tree hike-and-bike-trail or the five-lane Mockingbird Lane with no crosswalk.

Boyett suggested for students to cross John Stockbauer at Ben Jordan Street or walk along Mockingbird Lane in the grass to reach the school. Although the route to school is not the most convenient, it is the safest, Boyett said.

"We realize there's not a sidewalk on that side of the road on Mockingbird," she said. "It is not by any means what we would ever say is an ideal situation."

But students who travel from the north entrance of the Carriage Pointe neighborhood must walk into oncoming traffic on the westbound lane because of utility work that blocks the grassy pathway if they were to follow the district's suggestion.

A safety issue

"I don't understand," said Victoria Valdez, 39, an East mother who lives in an apartment complex along Mockingbird Lane, with her five children. "Are you making it easier for you guys or safer?"

Valdez, who does not own a car and cannot drive her children to school, addressed the school board in August about the issue. She is collecting signatures from parents and residents to present to the city asking for a solution.

The district suggested her sons, East students, walk in the unpaved grassy area alongside Mockingbird Lane to get to campus.

Valdez hopes the city can either build sidewalks or partner with the Victoria Transit to make a bus stop closer to the school.

"Don't think about the money.," she said. "How much more is worth a child than a school?"

No solution in sight

The city has no planned sidewalk projects along Mockingbird or Leary lanes.

"If the sidewalk is something that the council would want to do, they would have to move it up on the priority list," said O.C. Garza, the city's public information officer.

The council will consider sidewalk projects on Oct. 5.

Lynn Short, public works director, estimates the cost for a project along Mockingbird Lane to be roughly $200,000, but budget shortfalls make the situation impossible.

"We have absolutely no money budgeted for sidewalks this current year," Garza said.

Short said engineers are researching costs for putting a sidewalk along Leary Lane, which would be even more expensive because it requires building on the open drainage ditch that runs alongside the northern end of the street.

At the school entrance, putting in a stoplight would not be ideal because of the $350,000 cost and traffic regulations, Short said.

The closest city transit stop to the campus is nearly a mile away on Mockingbird Lane. To add a closer stop could cost up to $36,000 if a new route were needed and require public hearings and a move from city council.

"If there is a significant number of people that's wanting that stop, that's something we could look at," said Lisa Cortinas, director of transportation services for the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission.

Cortinas said accessibility is a big factor in deciding whether to add a stop.

"That's the bad thing about it," she said. "You put up a bus stop there, but these people are going to walk in the grass or walk in the street. So is it a good thing to put a bus stop there that's not accessible?"

Left with 'no option'

Back at the East campus Michelle Higgins, a history teacher, watched students trickle into the building before the first bell rang.

"If they're not going to bus, at least make a safer sidewalk system so the kids can get to and from," she said.

Higgins said she see students daily dodging traffic on the way to school.

"I see them walking in the grass and the rain . It's like we're leaving them no options," she said. "What are they supposed to do?"

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