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School bus safety options discussed

By Staff | May 22, 2019

With the tragic death of an 8-year-old Cape Coral girl in a school bus stop accident fresh on people’s minds, Cape Coral City Council on Monday listened to the city’s police chief and traffic engineer on potential safety solutions.

Traffic engineer Bill Corbett and Police Chief David Newlan gave a presentation on how they and a group of stakeholders have evaluated traffic safety solutions, bus stop seating, sidewalks and crosswalks, streetlights, best practices and education and awareness.

The city is home to approximately 50,000 students who use about 1,671 of the county’s 7,000 stops. That means about 36,000 stops every school day to pick up and drop off students going to and from 23 District schools. There have also been 4,000 bus stop changes in the city since August.

Of all the District stops in the city, only 673 are considered semi-permanent, of which 425 have had street lights installed. The rest either having lights or do not have pickups during hours when it is dark.

There have been, in the past decade, 11 incidents involving children being hit by cars going to or from a bus stop or walking to school. Two were fatalities.

Newlan said the city is working with the School District of Lee County to evaluate bus stops and review traffic safety solutions such as the pilot program between the city and the Cape Coral Rotary/Kiwanis in progress with bus stop seating, sidewalks, streetlights and signs and following nationwide best practices.

The price of these measures is expected to be steep. To put a bench at all bus stops would cost $6.5 million, provided the pilot program is considered a success. It would cost $1 million to install street lights at all remaining bus stops

That would be a drop in the bucket compared to sidewalks, especially in a city where 9 percent of roadways have sidewalks and just 46 percent of major roadways.

Over the past 12 years the city has constructed sidewalks utilizing federal and state grants, about $10 million worth to build 30 miles of sidewalks, with another $8 million coming in the next five years to build another 21 miles.

Councilmember Jessica Cosden said she wants to city to start using capital funds to pay for sidewalks rather than just rely on grants.

“Even if it’s a small amount, we need to put this in the budget every year and I want to push that because I may not be here to do so in August,” Cosden said, referring to the pending birth of her child.

Installing sidewalks within a two-mile distance from all schools would require 69 percent of all roadways to have sidewalks (on both sides of major roads and one side of local roads) at a cost of $734 million. To build them on both sides of local roads would cost $1.44 billion and to build sidewalks everywhere would cost $2.17 billion.

Other ideas included installing solar flashing beacons at intersections with bus stops, and one company even introduced a mobile solar light that also emits a strobe to let people know children are present.

The city will also look into consolidating stops (certain intersections can have as many as eight benches), review how school choice has impacted safety, and perhaps create zones to further reduce stops, and to review starting times at schools to reduce pickups and drop-offs in the dark.

Councilmember David Stokes suggested placing the benches in places that would cost the least, which Corbett said was the approach they are taking.

“I’m a big fan of these benches, but use common sense and fiscal conservatism in what it costs and where we put them and working with the school board to move them to sites that cost less,” Stokes said.

City Manager John Szerlag said the idea wasn’t to have a “Cadillac bus stop,” but to tell them what it could cost in compliance to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Councilmember Jennifer Nelson said everything looked as though it was a strategic approach.

“It would be helpful to prioritize things. It seems like darkness is the main factor, so it would be nice to prioritize so we do a little bit every year and make it incremental,” Nelson said.