Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007

Community asks for safety measures

Students, parents and staff say the new Richard Montgomery High School building will require more pedestrian improvements

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Richard Montgomery High School students, parents and staff packed Rockville City Hall Monday night to plead for more pedestrian safety measures in front of the new school, which is expected to open in January.

One resident told city officials that action should be taken now to prevent a child from being struck and killed, which happened at Thomas S. Wootton High School on Aug. 31, 1999, when a 16-year-old boy was fatally hit by a car.

After that incident, the city stepped up to make Wootton Parkway safer for pedestrians.

‘‘There have been no more traffic fatalities since these safety improvements were made,” Lance Simon, a member of the Richard Montgomery PTSA Pedestrian Safety Committee, said.

Members of the Pedestrian Safety Committee were also scheduled to lead city officials on a tour Tuesday night to point out the places that they felt would pose ‘‘pedestrian hazards” for students. The event happened after Gazette press time.

The new school building is being constructed on what used to be the football field on the Richard Montgomery campus at Fleet Street and Richard Montgomery Drive in Rockville.

Parents, students and staff say that with the new building being located at a different point on campus, students will be at risk when they cross sections of Fleet Street, where very few traffic measures — stop signs, traffic signals or marked crosswalks — are in place.

Richard Montgomery Principal Moreno E. Carrasco, who was the first to speak Monday night, said the school community is excited about the opening of the new facility, but concerned about the new traffic pattern it will bring.

‘‘During the past several months, concerned parents and school administrators have worked with your staff to address the appropriate means to avert a crisis borne of the confluence of cars and kids on fleet street in the vicinity of Park Avenue and Jefferson Plaza,” he said. ‘‘Park and Jefferson are attractive, more-direct routes to the new Town Center for Richard Montgomery students, and they will undoubtedly be the preferred means of access from the new school front.”

Carrasco added that Fleet Street is a busy, four-lane road and crossing it could prove hazardous — or fatal — without more traffic measures in place.

Richard Montgomery PTSA President Kate Savage said she was also concerned about students traveling to and from campus. A large percentage of the student body, she said, walks to school.

Savage said she thinks the student population is great, but that they are also teenagers who are ‘‘usually distracted.”

‘‘They are not thinking about the traffic when they cross the street. They are thinking about where they need to be, where their friends are, what they want to eat and if they are late,” she said, adding that they are going to travel the shortest and easiest routes.

She said the PTSA, school administration and Student Government Association are doing their best to educate students and drivers on the new traffic patterns, but they also need help from the city to make it work.

Council members told the speakers that they were looking forward to the Tuesday night tour and discussing the issues further.

‘‘We’ve got to do what we can to protect our students in any way possible,” Councilwoman Phyllis R. Marcuccio, a graduate of Richard Montgomery, said.

During a phone interview Monday afternoon, Emad Elshafei, chief of traffic and transportation for the city’s Department of Public Works, said city staff already knew of some of the concerns.

Coincidentally, the City Council on Monday approved awarding the contract to install the traffic signal to Scott A. Duncan Inc.

Elshafei said the city had planned to have the traffic signal in place this summer, but the delay in opening the school delayed the project. ‘‘We hope to start construction in October,” he said. ‘‘So when the school opens in January, it will be operational.”

He said between that traffic signal, measures in place at Monroe and Fleet streets, and a crosswalk at Fleet Street and Park Avenue, which the city plans to improve, students should be able to find safe places to cross. He said the city would also post signs alerting drivers to watch out for pedestrians.

In addition, he said he had already spoken to school representatives about removing some parking on Fleet Street.

‘‘When the school opens in January, we will monitor students’ walking patterns and go from there,” he said.