Northside parents worry drivers can't see this Parker Woods school zone

CINCINNATI -- Drivers moving along Pullan Avenue in Northside might not know they're traveling less than a quarter-mile from a neighborhood elementary school, and some residents are worried for students' safety.

"Nobody knows it's up there if they're not from the neighborhood," said Sue Wilke with the Northside Community Council.

Wilke's talking about Parker Woods Montessori School, which sits atop a hill between Parker Woods Nature Preserve and Langland Street and Beech Hill Avenue. Pullan runs less than 1,000 feet from the school's entrance, and parents and school buses must use it to get there.

That's a problem, Wilke said, because -- beyond accessing Parker Woods Montessori -- drivers often use Pullan Avenue as a cut-through to get between Hamilton and Dane avenues, two of the neighborhood's busiest roads.

That means people often speed, Wilke said.

"People take the cut off of Hamilton to get over to Dane and Spring Grove (Avenue) because then you avoid the business district and all that," she told WCPO.

"They just fly down Pullan."

Drivers on Pullan Ave. tend to drive right by without noticing this School Zone sign tucked up on Beech Hill Avenue. (Pat LaFleur/WCPO)

Fred Neurohr's son started sixth grade at Parker Woods this week. For the last two years, the 12-year-old has walked to and from school each day. Neurohr -- who also acts as vice president for the Northside Community Council, and a satellite member of the school's parent-teacher organization -- said it's a cause for anxiety.

"If he walks to school, I worry about him crossing Hamilton Avenue, of course," he said. "I'm also concerned about him crossing Langland over where Pullan is. There are no crossing guards there, and there is no contiguous sidewalk on one side of the street either."

Neurohr and Wilke both say Pullan Avenue isn't equipped to provide a safe environment for children walking to and from school.

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"I think there should be school zone signs," Wilke said. "There should be some consideration to maybe reduce the speed limit on a couple of blocks, and then the crosswalks re-done... a crosswalk sign."

Pullan was recently repaved and, as of this writing, had no crosswalks except for those at Hamilton and Dane avenues, on either end. 

In accordance with Ohio law, there is a school zone with signage and a reduced speed limit -- 20 miles per hour -- on Langland Street down the hill from the school's entrance, as well as another sign on Beech Hill Avenue. Ohio law allows for a "school zone" to extend 300 feet from a group of determined points: either the school's entrance, the edge of school property or a designated student crossing. 

Aerial view of the school zone outside Parker Woods Montessori. The yellow dots indicate "School Zone" speed limit signs. (Google Maps)

"There's one of those yellow signs with the kids on it, and an arrow pointing down, but there's no crosswalk," Wilke said about Langland Street just outside the school zone. "So, you know, people don't see anything, and the kids don't know that they can cross there."

Neurohr said he'd like to see on Pullan what other Northside schools like Chase Elementary and St. Boniface School have on nearby streets.

"The other schools in the neighborhood have lower speed limits during school hours at certain times with blinking lights," he said. "They have crossing guards that have well-marked crosswalks that we don't have at Parker Woods Montessori."

WCPO reached out to the city for comment on replacing the crosswalks on Pullan Avenue that have been paved over, and any other additional signage the Department of Transportation and Engineering might install, but did not immediately hear back.

Beyond the lack of signage on Pullan, Neurohr said the tight loop of streets outside the school makes for a traffic nightmare in the mornings and afternoons.

"That's a very high-traffic area in the morning and at dismissal," he told WCPO. "You have cars coming and going. You have residents parked along the streets, and you have school buses coming up and down the hill. So it can be very busy and very crazy."

Cincinnati Public Schools spokeswoman Lauren Worley said these problems aren't specific to Northside.

A resident installed this 'Look out for pedestrians' sign at the intersection of Langland and Pullan, where a crosswalk was paved over earlier this year. (Pat LaFleur/WCPO)

"What we're seeing in Northside isn't unlike what we're seeing in our 52 other neighborhoods and our 63 school communities," she told WCPO. "There appears to be an increased need for painted crosswalks. There appears to be an increased need for student crossing signs, certainly enforcement of the speed limit. And then ultimately potentially more crossing guards."

The challenge, Worley said, is determining how many students and parents are choosing not to walk because they don't feel safe.

"What we need to better understand is how many kids are opting out, how many families are opting out of walking to school in a neighborhood that is quite walkable, actually, because they don't feel that the speed limit's being enforced or that there's safe crossing for their children," she said.

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As CPS and the city work to address the concerns, Neurohr couldn't help but note the irony of the situation: It's unlikely the city would assign a crossing guard at a location where few kids are walking, while parents say they'd let their kids walk to school if they felt it was safer.

"Other parents have said over time that they would allow their kids to walk if there were crossing guards and there was a clear path," he said.

Ultimately, he sees Parker Woods Montessori's perch on the hill as a blessing and a curse.

"I think that one of the best assets of the school is that it's tucked away at the top of the hill there, so it's sort of special in that regard," he said. "It's also one of the downfalls: People don't know it's there. Unless you turn up Langland and go north, you're not going to see the craziness that happens."

Wilke said parents who share her and Neurohr's concerns can attend the Northside Community Council's Monday, Aug. 20 meeting, where they will discuss the neighborhood's street safety priorities. That meeting is at 7 p.m. at the McKie Recreation Center on Chase Avenue.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and mobility for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) and on Facebook.

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