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Off Guard: Butler Students Tackle Trapelo Traffic Without Town Help

The lack of a crossing guard at Hawthorne and Trapelo due to funding concern many parents.

The crosswalk at the corner of Trapelo Road and Hawthorne Street is only a few yards across; it takes a mere moment to get from the north side to the south.

But for Ann Ozawa and her daughter, Zoe, the twice daily excursion to the has become a game of chicken with the heavy traffic flowing on Trapelo.

"Everytime we're here, I wonder which (driver) is going to stop for us," said Ozawa on a recent rainy day, looking at countless vehicles buzz through the narrow two-lane roadway.

Like everyday, Zoe carries a bicycle pole with a red flag on top for their trip. Once they reach the white rectangles designating the walkway, Ann Ozawa will gingerly edge into the walkway and wave the flag to approaching cars traveling in both directions to gain a driver's attention.

What happens next can not be anticipated, said Ozawa. Most cars attempt to halt which under state law they are required.

But others will continue to  speed by or break too late when Ozawa ventures into the street.

"They often don't recognize that we're waiting and that's frustrating," said parent Barbara Bulfoni who navigates the same daily trip as Ozawa.

Ozawa and Bulfoni are just two of dozens of Butler parents – the PTA reports that a third of Butler's 353 students in kindergarten to fourth grade live across Trapelo from the school – who must cross the busy thoroughfare that intersects Belmont from Waltham to Cambridge, making it a favorite of rush-hour commuters.

And it's that popularity that has made the two-a-day crossings an anxiety-filled venture for many who must worry not only for their children but themselves.

With the given level of traffic and tales of just-misses that parents trade, Ozawa finds it hard to fathom that a half-a-block from the school (the Butler playground can be seen from the crosswalk) there is no crossing guard or a light to control the constant traffic especially in the morning.

And the lack of controls to assist children and adults to cross the street is not due to ignorance.

"Everyone knows it's a issue; the police, the school, the parents," said Ozawa.

Alexandra Goho has a large twin stroller for her younger children as she takes her daughter to first grade. They all signal that they are crossing by raising their hands over their heads.

"(My daughter) now knows how to wave to get their attention. But then it's not like they can't see us especially with the stroller," said Goho.

And that's on a sunny day, said Bulfoni, who said the pedestrians have been lucky due to the mild winter.

"I can only think what this must be like if there were high snow drifts and icy roads," said Bulfoni. 

Not that a solution hasn't been discussed with school and police officials, said Ozawa, who said that Butler School Principal Michael McAllister has submitted the paperwork required to place a guard at the location.

McAllister told Belmont Patch a guard at Hawthorne and improving the sidewalks along Sycamore Street is part of a new school transportation plan that was implemented in the fall which included re-routing traffic, changing parking and establishing more formal pick-up and drop-off areas.

Guarding the crosswalk on July 1

Yet an additional crossing guard will not be coming to the street until the new fiscal year that begin on July 1.

Belmont Police Sgt. Ben Mailhot said the funds for the crossing guard program, that provides a person at several intersections closer to the Butler, is completely allocated for the year.

"It's as simple as us not having the funds to hire a crossing guard," said Mailhot. Nor would he be able to take one of the existing guards to Trapelo since "that would create issues elsewhere."

He noted that the police has a request in the fiscal 2012 budget for an additional guard for the Butler who will be assigned to the intersection.

Yet the request, said Mailhot, will need to pass muster at the Warrant Committee – the financial watchdog for the Town Meeting which will either recommend passage or defeat of the request – and at May's Town Meeting which will have the final say.

"It is a good time to speak to Town Meeting members about this," said Mailhot.

Mailhot suggests that parents and children who feel unsafe at Hawthrone and Trapelo can travel a few blocks east and west to traffic light crossings at in Waverley Square or at Beech Street.

But Goho points out that the Beech Street location is filled with blind spots due to parked cars, the MBTA bus stops and cars in multiple lanes.

"That is a very big intersection with cars turning off Trapelo so in someways it's just as dangerous," Goho said of the Beech Street crossing.

She would like to see one of the town's large electrical signs that announce messages and traffic advisories be placed near the crosswalk to remind drivers of the state law. 

As for the school, "the question of Hawthorne and Trapelo Road is one of the last phases in our goal of making the Butler neighborhood safer for students and families coming to school," said McAllister, who has been working with Glenn Clancy, director of the town's , Selectman Angleo Firenze and Kevin Shea and Chris Donohue from Belmont Police to resolve the issue as soon as the money is available.

"When parents ask me for help I pass their concerns on to Kevin (Shea) and Glenn (Clancy) and also encourage them to relay their concerns to these two men directly. In my experience they have both been responsive to the feedback they have received," said McAllister.

"We have done a lot to make things safer for students, and these two changes will add to those efforts. I think they are important," he said.

But for Ozawa and the other parents, the funding issue is understandable but does not give them any comfort for the remaining three months of the school year.

"The town says it doesn't have the money. The schools say they don't have the money. Will the money show up if a child is hit by a car?" asked Ozawa.

David Chase March 19, 2012 at 06:16 PM
This is a long-standing problem, slightly improved a few years ago when the road was narrowed for that crosswalk. If we can't afford a crossing guard, is enforcement an option? Seems like the tickets ($200, apparently) would do a lot to ease the town's costs, if we get to keep that money. Also, there's already been a fatality at that crosswalk, back before its current narrow configuration: http://www.town.belmont.ma.us/Public_Documents/BelmontMA_TrafficMin/Minutes2003/S0022AACE?textPage=1
Marsha Knoll March 19, 2012 at 07:35 PM
I like David's idea about enforcement and traffic ticket revenues! Anyway, how much $$ would it take to pay for the crossing guard position at that crosswalk through the end of the school year? Can we citizens take up a collection? Or does it 'have to come from town revenues.' That is an exceptionally busy street!!! with a lot of 'after me, you're next' MA drivers.
Franklin Tucker (Editor) March 19, 2012 at 08:52 PM
It's revealing that a pedestrian fatality occurred during the middle of the summer when the location should be somewhat safer with diminished traffic. That should be a warning to us all.
Anne Mahon March 20, 2012 at 01:57 AM
Having the police there charging people for violating the law is a brilliant idea. Not only is it likely to fund the crossing guard, with the way drivers fail to look out for pedestrians, we could probably get a couple more officers with the income! ;-)
Sandy March 20, 2012 at 11:57 AM
I'd like more discussion about re-locating existing crossing guards. No one wants to put any one's child in harm's way but I would think that Trapelo road would take priority over some of the other less traveled streets with crossing guards.
Sue Bass March 20, 2012 at 12:13 PM
I agree. This spot should have had a crossing guard all along as one of the highest priority, most dangerous crossings.
Ann March 21, 2012 at 12:06 AM
Franklin, thank you very much for writing this article. Some people have commented on the use of a police officer at this crosswalk. We have had on occasion an officer at this location. He never fails to catch several drivers violating the law. It can be a source of revenue for the town to fund the crossing guard position. I also agree that moving a guard from another location to this one is worth exploring. I and other parents will continue to keep a focus on this issue. We feel that it is the town's obligation to get students to and from school safely.
Matt Sullivan March 21, 2012 at 11:05 PM
I agree. This is one of, if not the busiest streets in town. They absolutely need to have a crossing guard at this location. If elected to the School Committee I will do everything I can to make this a reality. As a pedestrian who got hit in the middle of a crosswalk twelve years ago I know the reality that not everyone pays attention to crosswalks.

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