Caleb Smith has not been principal at Newton High School very long, taking the job this summer. He has had students in the building for just two days so far, and he has seen something that concerns him — something he heard about at a city commission meeting earlier this year.
There’s a lack of pedestrian infrastructure — specifically a way for pedestrians to cross 12th street near Boyd Avenue.
"They are having to basically jaywalk to get to school. It is a concern that they do not have a cross walk or a safe way to cross the street," Smith said. "... They have to dodge traffic to get across the street over there."
He speaks specifically of the intersection of Boyd and 12th Street, where traffic can be heavy during the beginning and end of the school day.
He got a preview of heavy traffic times during the summer when the school was a site for Farm To Families, a USDA food distribution program. At time, traffic wanting to get into the parking lot backed up for blocks.
And all of that traffic had to exit the lot as well.
"That was a huge traffic thing we witnessed," Smith said.
Pedestrian infrastructure in the area includes a sidewalk on the north side of West 12th Street from Boyd Avenue to North Anderson Avenue. The sidewalk switches to the south side of West 12th Street east of North Anderson Avenue. There are no signed and marked school or pedestrian crossings across West 12th Street at the school.
In addition, there is not a designated way or place for bicycles or other pedestrians to cross the street from designated bike routes.
"We would love to see a marked crosswalk to get them across the street," Smith said.
And not only the school would like to see changes. Parents approached the city about a crossing for 12th Street at the school several months ago. In response to the request, the city submitted a request to the Kansas Department of Transportation for Transportation Engineering Assistance Program seeking funds to hire a consultant for a traffic engineering study on the 12th Street corridor from Boyd to Anderson. WSP USA, engineers specializing in traffic studies, were retained as a result.
Their report and recommendations will be reviewed by the city commission Sept. 8.
WSP found the average daily traffic for the area is about 5,000 cars a day — and that there were 30 reported vehicle crashes in the last five years. WSP state that none of the intersection s the high school have a "calculated crash rates above the critical crash rate."
WSP also found that a lack of pedestrian infrastructure "creates a situation where pedestrians may act unpredictably or wait long periods for proper gaps to cross the street."
The company proposed six options for improvement in the area, ranging in cost from about $18,000 to $2 million.
That builds on efforts in 2015 by the city, the Harvey County Health Department and WSP USA Inc., to develop bicycle master plan that included specific recommendations for the area. The plan recommended a "right sizing" of West 12th Street to increase the expected safety of the roadway and provide pedestrian facilities by converting the roadway from a four-lane undivided (two lanes in each direction) to a three-lane cross section with bike lanes in each direction.
WSP wrote "based on the operational analysis of the study, this configuration was expected to positively impact the operations of drivers entering and leaving the school area during both the 2015 and 2030 traffic models" in its latest report.
The cost of that project is estimated to be between $51,000 and $72,000.
Other options given include additional speed zones with signage at a cost of $26,000; improved crossings with sidewalk connections at a cost of $59,000; a mid-block light with crosswalk at a cost of $18,000; and a roundabout at Boyd Avenue at a cost of between $1.5 to $2 million.
The city commission is expected to review WSP’s full report Sept. 8, though not take any formal action to move forward with any projects.