Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Parents raise concerns about security, traffic safety at school intersections.

The intersection outside Ben Franklin Elementary school was the site of two vehicle crashes between 2015 and 2017, according to PennDOT data.

How safe are the streets outside of Harrisburg’s schools?

Data from a targeted city traffic study show that intersections outside of school buildings saw multiple car crashes in recent years.

The intersection of 6th and Division streets, near Camp Curtin Middle School, was the site of seven car crashes between 2015 and 2017, according to a city analysis of PennDOT data. The same data recorded two car crashes at 6th and Verbeke streets, just outside Benjamin Franklin Elementary School.

These findings were released as part of the city’s 2nd Street conversion study, which only analyzed the area from Forster to Division streets between the river and 7th Street. Crash data near the city’s other schools were not included.

Nonetheless, district parents are now asking for more crossing guards and bus service in neighborhoods across the city.

Yaqinah Abdurrahman’s 8-year old son is a second grader at Ben Franklin Elementary school. He’s able to ride the bus, but she said his friends who live outside the 1-mile bus radius are afraid to walk to school in the morning, due to busy intersections and the presence of a men’s homeless shelter near their campus.

A group from Benjamin Franklin School recently took matters into its own hands, launching a GoFundMe campaign to raise $40,000 to buy a new bus so they can transport more children.

But Abdurrahman fears problems will only get worse in the winter, when inclement weather and snowy sidewalks could force some walking students to stay home.

“If kids aren’t getting to school, you can’t serve them at all,” Abdurrahman said at a school board meeting tonight. “When it gets colder, you’re losing attendance.”

Abdurrahman suggested that school employees could ride public CAT buses with children who can’t take the school bus. She also asked if the district could grant building security guards greater power to patrol traffic outside the buildings, or to act as crossing guards at nearby intersections.

Board director Brian Carter said that some school security officers already direct traffic at school crosswalks. The district is also hiring more crossing guards.

But some residents want students to have the protection of adults along their entire walk to and from school.

“I have been fighting for crossing guards every year for the last 10 years,” said Sylvia Rigal. “We can’t get them, we can’t keep them. Not every parent can take their child to school.”

Rigal wants to see crossing guards along 6th street, stationed at the intersections of Maclay, Reily and Schuykill streets. School board members and administrators say that they’ll have to work with the city to station crossing guards beyond school property.

“I’ve spoken to City Council many times on this issue. It is the city’s responsibility to provide crossing guards,” board director Carrie Fowler said. “The only place they cannot provide crossing guards is on school property. That’s the district’s responsibility.”

But board vice president Danielle Robinson said the district can’t hire enough crossing guards as it is. She said the human resources department has advertised jobs for crossing guards this fall to monitor intersections near school property, but hasn’t found enough candidates.

“The district is doing everything it can to provide crossing guard protection for our children,” Robinson said. “We put all the advertisements up, but we can’t force people to come in. It’s frustrating because we want to help.”

Abdurrahman worries that people won’t mobilize behind the issue until it’s too late.

“If you can injure a person going 25 miles per hour, an adult, what would happen to a child?” Abdurrahman said. “Once a kid gets hit by a car, we’ll have 1,000 people at the crosswalks.”

Mayor Eric Papenfuse did not immediately respond to a request for comment tonight.

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