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Schools Try To Improve Pedestrian Safety

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Montgomery County schools superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr walks with students to class at Captain James Daly Elementary in Germantown.
Matt Bush
Montgomery County schools superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr walks with students to class at Captain James Daly Elementary in Germantown.

Of the 560 students at Captain James Daly elementary school in Germantown, about 40 percent walk to school. For the most part, they arrive at school safely, but the 5th-grade traffic safety patrol guards see unsafe conditions on the roads on a daily basis.

"The cars going too fast and kids have to get out the way," says one youngster.

"They can sometimes go out into the street and they're without adults," another points out. Some kids run instead of walking, and they run into someone else; or parents dart in between cars on the street when they are running late, say other members of the patrol.

These safety-minded kids aren't the only ones trying to watch out for traffic. Nora Dietz, the school's principal, says for the most part the area is pretty safe, though she does see cars going too fast in the nearby neighborhood.

"One concern that we have is the speed on Scenery Drive, and the police department is going to help us with that," she says. "I think additional signage would be helpful,  possibly in a different color so we can highlight it."

But it isn't always traffic causing the danger. Last year, Dietz says there was an attempted luring of a child after school. "What we found out from that is that taking shortcuts is probably not the best way to go to school," she says. The school is now providing walking maps to parents so they can identify the fastest, safest walking routes to school.

While the school gives out maps, the county is helping with speed cameras and roadway narrowing. County Executive Isiah Leggett says they are also upgrading some sidewalks -- but that takes money, which is never an easy thing to find in tight budgets.

"We are nowhere near where we want to go. I think we are less than 40 percent of where we need to go, he says. " So there's another 60 percent in terms of schools alone that we need to improve on. And we also have to target other areas, for example where elderly people are living."

The benefits of walking to school are numerous, says Cheikh Dieng, whose 5th-grade son Chiekh Jr. told him he'd rather walk this year than be driven.

"It's better for me to take my morning walk. I walk a good 20 minutes. It helps me, it helps him out," Dieng says. "When he comes to school, he's more awake this year. When I dropped him with the car, he'd be a little bit sleepy."

And that, Dieng adds, is the best pro-walking argument there is.

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