Traffic in front of Houghtaling Elementary School is a safety concern. The most dangerous times on Baranof Avenue are just before and after school, which is when a safety committee now will be on crossing guard duty.
Moments before the bell rings at 8:45, Peter Epler, wearing a reflective vest and holding a small stop sign, signals from the middle of the street for a student to cross.
“It feels so calm. It seems earlier than it should be, because the chaos isn’t here like I normally see it. It’s very nice to see cars parking legally, driving slowly and kids using a crosswalk instead of just randomly in the street.”
Epler is one of four volunteer guards at crosswalks around the school. Gilbert Varela on the opposite end of the school had a calm morning as well.
“Come on buddy, you ready to go to school? It’s been really nice. Like I said earlier, I think the cone are visible, we’re standing out here visible. I think that’s creating a nice peace, instead of just putting cones out and people not knowing what to do. Nice harmony nice balance.”
The cones block cars from parking close to the crosswalk, so walkers are visible. The curbs are painted yellow, but the cones create a more effective physical barrier to keep parents from using it as a drop-off zone.
The cones and crossing guards are part of a recent effort led by parents to improve traffic patterns. The Ketchikan Gateway Borough even drew up plans to construct a drop-off loop. But, construction wouldn’t happen any time soon, if at all, so the safety committee pushed for more immediate solutions. The crossing guards are one solution.
District maintenance also worked to add parking spaces on each end of the building parking lot for teachers so their cars would be off Baranof.
“It’s made a difference it really has. There’s not as many cars parked on the street.”
That’s Julie Tibbles, a concerned parent who walked the property with borough and district staff to find solutions. Traffic on Baranof also was reduced by moving bus pick-up and drop-off around the corner for kids riding the bus further north to Point Higgins Elementary, or south to Fawn Mountain Elementary.
While Tibbles is happy with recent improvements, she still thinks construction is necessary. “ I could show up next fall and have no volunteers for crossing guards. This is great while we have volunteers, but I don’t know that it’s sustainable necessarily.”
For now, the handful of volunteers will stand on Baranof every weekday morning and afternoon. Cones and signs might blur into the background like flashing lights, and other safety measures, but people are harder to ignore.