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Extension aims to help improve school safety


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A road-extension proposal to improve safety and reduce traffic congestion around four northside Columbus schools is moving closer to fruition.

A $191,350 engineering study on the feasibility of extending Maple Street from Tipton Lane to U.S. 31, also known as National Road, has been approved by the city’s Board of Public Works and Safety.

The estimated $1 million project is in the vicinity of Columbus North High School, Northside Middle School, Schmitt Elementary School and St. Bartholomew Catholic School. It is designed to improve safety conditions for more than 4,000 students and their families, especially before and after school when traffic congestion is the heaviest.

 

The Maple Street extension has been in the works since before 2012, when a Safe Routes to School study identified the need for the connection. The plan that resulted from the study identified traffic in the four-school campus as “a chaotic dance of vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists with the crossing guards trying to choreograph it all.”

All four schools are within blocks of each other in an area bordered by Home Avenue and Maple, 25th and 27th streets, which is surrounded by residential development.

The project would connect Maple to U.S. 31 with an intersection allowing vehicles to either turn right onto Maple from U.S. 31 or right from Maple onto U.S. 31. The proposal also includes:

A realignment of the intersection of 27th Place and 27th and Maple streets.

The installation of an 8-foot wide pedestrian walkway on the west side of Northside’s football field connecting the school to the intersection of Home Avenue and U.S. 31.

First-hand experience

One parent who commutes through the area said traffic tie-ups affect daily life, particularly during the school year.

Kristin Munn said the congestion is so bad that when she breaks out her bicycle to ride to work downtown, she often feels as if she’s taking her life into her own hands.

Munn, a wife and mother of two, lives near Parkside Elementary School. That means her bike route to work takes her through the four-school campus.

In that area, she said, traffic is so congested and so unsafe that she usually will move to the sidewalk when she goes down Home Avenue because it’s less dangerous than staying on the street.

And while Munn’s oldest, who will be a third-grader at Parkside next year, won’t go to one of the four schools until she reaches the seventh grade, the mom said she is already thinking about what it would mean for her daughter to bike to Northside in a few years — and she said she has reason to worry.

Munn said she would like to see the congestion addressed and that she thinks the city’s plan could help do that because it creates another option for people leaving the schools and heading to U.S. 31.

Lisa Williams, the parking and crossing guard clerk for the city’s police department, said she hopes the new option will help expedite traffic through the area.

Williams oversees the seven crossing guards who help students from Schmitt and St. Bartholomew cross the road safely.

She said while the crossing guards try to limit congestion and get out of the way so traffic can function normally when North lets out, the traffic in the area is still terrible.

Like Munn, Williams said the connection could help by providing another choice for people to get moving. And whether it’s this project or another option, she said something certainly needs to be done in the area.

Finding another route around the congestion has been a long-term goal for many in the school district, Superintendent John Quick said.

Quick called the proposal “terrific” and said he appreciates Mayor Kristin Brown’s support of the project.

Improving the traffic flow has been on the radar for a while, Quick said, calling the project a step in the right direction for making the area safer and “better for all those who face that challenge every morning.”

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