Local school zone speed limits arbitrary, make little sense

In Niagara County

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The speed limit on Mapleton Road in front of the sprawling Starpoint Central School campus in the town of Pendleton has been lowered to 40 mph, and some have questioned the reasonableness of the adjustment.

Previously 45 mph on the long, straight stretch of road, with no intersections in the vicinity save those servicing the school, it was recently lowered to 40 mph, necessitating a change of signs and installation of new flashing yellow warning lights. The Starpoint school buildings themselves are set back several hundred feet from the road.

“In the long term, we’d like to see the school zone lowered to 30 mph,” Starpoint school superintendent Sean Croft told the Lockport Journal. “In most school districts you see, the speed limit in the school zone is 30 mph or less.”

That would undoubtedly provoke the procurement of yet another, new set of signs and flashing lights.

“I’m always nervous about students leaving and not being able to judge the speed of cars coming on Mapleton Road,” the previous superintendent told the same paper back in May, after a car struck a left-turning truck in the no passing zone, something that could happen just about anywhere, but serendipitously took place in front of Starpoint that day.

Actually, being able to “judge the speed of cars” is kind of an essential skill when it comes to driving, not just in school zones, but everywhere.

The fact that Mapleton was closed down after the initial accident precipitated a second accident, a four car pile-up down the road, which is not surprising, since following too close, or tailgating, is an American driving practice as ubiquitous as rolling through stop signs and pitching fast food wrappers out the car window. You could probably lump “judging the speed of cars” in there for good measure.

It’s practically a five minute walk from the front door of Starpoint school to Mapleton Road, but the superintendent thinks the speed limit should be further lowered, to 30 mph.

Therefore, the speed limit in front of Starpoint wasn’t lowered because kids were constantly chasing errant soccer balls out in the road, or riding their bikes or walking to the corner store for pizza, pop and bubble gum during the lunch hour. It was changed because there were a couple of accidents out front that happened to occur in a school zone. Not any different from the accidents that probably happen 50 times a day on Niagara Falls Boulevard.

“If so many parents didn’t drive their kids (to the isolated rural school) there wouldn’t be so much traffic out front, and there wouldn’t be a problem,” a Starpoint teacher, who wished to speak off the record, told the Reporter.

He couldn’t offer a reason as to why it was the case that these students weren’t taking the bus to school. Maybe because it’s not cool to take the school bus, a perception which has always been the case with, at least, high schoolers. And if that means Mom or Dad have to drive you to school to keep up appearances, then so be it.

The Niagara Falls Reporter takes a special interest in school speed limits, and was largely responsible for coercing the state Department of Transportation to lower the speed limit in front of Hyde Park School in the city, to 25 mph. The front door of Hyde Park School is a mere 15 feet from the busy thoroughfare, and it took nearly three years for the city and the DOT to act after we first complained about the dangerous situation in these pages.

While Mapleton isn’t a state highway like Hyde Park Blvd., is, DOT approval was still needed to lower the limit to 40, and will be required for any subsequent changes.

Just as we pointed out the disparity between Hyde Park School’s speed limit and that in front of other elementary schools in the city which happen to be in more affluent communities, there is a glaring contradiction when comparing the new Starpoint speed limit to a school with a very similar topography, namely, Niagara Wheatfield.

It’s not at all uncommon to see kids from Niagara Wheatfield dart across the busy highway to access Smokin’ Joes, with its many gas stations and retail outlets. It’s a very dangerous situation, but one that will probably go unaddressed until one of two things happens: We write articles for the next three years bringing the hazard to the attention of the authorities, or, God forbid, a tragedy occurs.

The speed limit in front of Niagara Wheatfield school on Route 31 (left) is 45 mph. Students have been seen unsafely running across this busy highway, where drivers routinely do 50 mph, to access Smokin’ Joes shopping center (right).

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