“I just don’t want us to sit here until some child gets hit, maybe gets killed,” said Councilwoman Mary Bramblett during a council meeting this week. “Some of the cars are stopping. Some of the cars are not stopping.”
The new crosswalk was built at the base of a small hill at the east end of the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue, about one block from the middle and elementary school campuses. Drivers who approach from the south have a clear view of the crosswalk and a blinking light that hangs over it. But the hill blocks the view of the crosswalk for a short time from drivers coming from the north. The speed limit there is 15 mph, according to police Chief Steven Tidwell.
The sidewalk, a small bridge and the crosswalk are all part of the state’s Safe Routes to Schools project, approved by the Alabama Department of Transportation. The walkway is about four-tenths of a mile long and, once complete, is expected to cost about $122,000, according to Carl Hinton, the city’s special projects manager. A 50-foot prefabricated bridge that is part of the project cost the city $50,000.
Still technically closed to the public, the walkway has no barriers to keep anyone from accessing it. Still, Hinton said, the city is trying to take additional measures to make the crosswalk safer before construction crews finish their work. Completion is expected before the new year, officials said.
Currently the crosswalk is marked by two yellow signs and a caution light. Hinton said the city plans to add more signs at a greater distance from the crosswalk.
He said the City Council will also consider implementing one of two recommendations Tidwell made. One would have the city add stop signs at nearby cross streets to slow traffic, while the other would have the city add more sidewalk.
Hinton and the chief said they think stop signs will be the best option.
“The stop signs are going to be the most expedient and most effective and cheapest answer,” Tidwell said at the council meeting.
Construction crews worked to complete the finishing touches on the project this week. Freshly churned soil is exposed along the sidewalk’s edge and a mound of dirt is piled near the crosswalk. Nearby, pieces of heavy equipment rested by the sidewalk near the crosswalk just before noon Friday.
Originally, city leaders hoped to get enough money to do a more expansive project and make the entire city more walkable. Officials said the city applied for about $900,000 in grants. But, when it was awarded $122,000 in 2009, the city scaled back the project and focus on building a sidewalk between the middle and high schools, he said.
Back when they were shooting for $900,000 in grant money, city leaders planned to install more signs at the crosswalk and set up an electronic display that would have flashed a driver’s speed on a screen.
Piedmont Elementary School Principal Chris Hanson helped develop the plan during the early phases. He said the sidewalk will be used primarily by high school students who walk from their neighborhoods closer into town. Piedmont has no school bus service for students living inside city limits.
Piedmont High School Principal Adam Clemons said about 20 students at his school walk to class, but officials say that number could grow now that the sidewalk is being completed. Before it was done, they said, some students had to walk too near the road’s edge and that some walked in the road.
Hinton added that one of the ideas behind the Safe Routes to Schools grant was to encourage more people, especially children, to walk in order to combat obesity.
The project was put on hold until now because of a financial freeze at the state level and because of construction delays, Hinton said.
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.