Cars line up on Munroe Street while waiting for Jacob Frankel, Carter Brown, Leilani Reid-Vera, Ben Hernried and Jackson Dulla to cross. (Photo by Will Wright)

Why no flashing crosswalk? Students scramble for safety on Munroe Street

If you’ve ever parked on American River Drive or walked to Loehmann’s Plaza, you’ve had to dodge cars whizzing past Latham Drive above the speed limit, paying little attention to the marked crosswalk despite signs warning of a school crossing.

Yet there is no suitable traffic signal at the intersection of Latham Drive and Munroe Street to protect the safety of students crossing the street. How long will it be before an accident occurs, and why haven’t any safety measures been installed?

This was the question posed by junior Sydney Jackson in a proposal essay in junior English recommending the addition of a stop sign or a flashing crosswalk beacon (that flashes only when pedestrians are crossing) to the Latham/Munroe intersection.

Jackson argued that the marked crosswalk alone is not enough to warn drivers, even if the law requires them to stop.

“Just because drivers should stop doesn’t mean they will unless there’s a clear sign,” she wrote. “If they don’t stop, the consequences could be grave. Next time, it could be a fatality.”

And the intersection is definitely dangerous—in a recent Octagon poll, 58 of 118 high-school students reported having a close encounter with a car while walking across the intersection.

Junior Madeline Mahla even triggered a minor accident while crossing the intersection on her bike.

“One car had stopped for me, which was nice, and I started to cross,” she said. “Then another car wanted to go around (the first car) because he didn’t see me. The car that was stopped turned and they crashed.”

“It was really scary—I thought someone was going to hit me, but the guy (in the first car) saved me.”

Juniors Leilani Reid-Vera and Abigail Pantoja said they were nearly hit by a woman who was checking her phone while turning out of Latham Drive.

Junior Alexa Griggs and freshman Jennifer Kerbs said they were honked at by drivers who didn’t want to slow down—even though pedestrians in a crosswalk have the legal right of way.

And many other students told similar stories of drivers unwilling to yield for pedestrians.

Thirty students drive themselves to school, and 25 of those park on American River Drive—so up to 25 students face the intersection to get to and from their cars every day.

As a solution to the problem, Jackson proposed adding a  flashing crosswalk—similar to one she saw during the junior and senior class trip to Ashland, Ore.—to the intersection of Latham Drive and Munroe Street.

The Rapid Response Flashing Beacon (RRFB) in Ashland uses a strip in the ground to detect pedestrians, activating flashing LED lights next to the standard pedestrian crossing signs.

The beacon was added due to complaints and accidents when a simple “stop for pedestrians” sign was not enough, according to Scott Fleury, engineering services manager of Ashland.

“It’s too early to tell if these flashing beacons are a cure-all as pedestrians and drivers still need to be cognizant of what is going on around them,” Fleury said.

So why hasn’t one been implemented by our school?

Headmaster Stephen Repsher said that the administration did ask the city several years ago about the addition of a traffic signal.

“We were informed that a (traditional) crosswalk was all they could put there at the time,” he said. “(The city) did not seem interested in some kind of traffic control device.”

Repsher was also told that the distance between Fair Oaks Boulevard and American River Drive was too short to warrant a stoplight in between. He did not inquire about a stop sign or a flashing beacon at the time, though he said he likes the idea.

“It does not impede traffic most of the time, but when someone is there, it gives them a larger margin of safety,” he said.

Although nothing has been implemented in the roughly five years since Repsher made his inquiry, the city has reviewed the location (including collecting data for three years) and placed it on a list to be considered in the future.

Intersections on this list are assigned point values based on collision rates, traffic volumes, pedestrian volumes and other considerations. They are ranked by point value and priority.

The Latham/Munroe intersection currently ranks 23rd of 34 critical intersections, scoring 34 of a possible 100 points (the highest-ranked intersection scores 80).

The Latham/Munroe intersection has been on the list since before 2008.

According to traffic investigator LoAnna Hernandez, the city usually constructs only one or two signals per year, though others are occasionally installed by private development.

The city’s current recommendation is to increase police enforcement over speeding, repaint the existing crosswalk and update the school warning signs, Hernandez said.

She said the Sacramento Department of Transportation has been researching the High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk Beacon (HAWK), a manually-activated signal similar to the RRFB found in Ashland.

However, according to Hernandez, the HAWK is still under research and would likely not be used in this case, as it “would not benefit drivers turning left into or out of Latham or East Ranch.”

Instead, the appropriate signal would likely be a full stoplight, she said.

Repsher disagrees with the city.

“(The intersection) is just an inconvenience for drivers, but for pedestrians, it’s more of a safety issue,” he said.

The Latham/Munroe intersection does not qualify for an all-way stop either—those are assigned only to intersections where both streets have roughly equal traffic density (Munroe has over 15,000 cars per day while Latham has only 1,019,), Hernandez said.

And aside from privately funding the project, there is little the school could do to get a signal implemented.

According to Hernandez, adding a full stoplight would cost $300,000 to $500,000.

And according to Fleury, the RRFB in Ashland was $25,000 to purchase and install (Hernandez said she was unsure about the cost of Sacramento’s HAWK).

“If there were an economic solution, the school would certainly be willing to contribute a portion,” Repsher said. “I don’t know how much the Board would be willing to authorize, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were willing to give a certain percentage.”

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