Project to improve safety for kids going to Penny Creek Elementary

EVERETT — For two years, parents have worried about the safety of kids walking or riding bikes to Penny Creek Elementary School.

With 730 students, Penny Creek has the largest enrollment of any elementary school in the Everett School District.

One of the roadways bordering the school — 132nd Street SE — is a state highway. So instead of the normal school zone speed limit of 25 mph, cars only have to slow to 35. On the stretches of roadway approaching the school, the speed limit is 45.

To add to the parents’ worries, two years ago, cuts in state funds to local school districts meant reductions in bus service. So families who live within a 1-mile radius of the school have to find their own ways to get their kids to class by having them walk, bike or car pool.

“That’s as the crow flies, the one mile radius,” said Amy Torpey, whose daughter, Emily, is a fifth-grader at the school. “We’re 1.3 miles away from the school.”

The sidewalk leading up to the school doesn’t have room for walkers, strollers or bikers, said Bridget Slaven, who spends about an hour each day walking her children, Lauren, 6, and Tanner, 8, back and forth to school each day.

Bikers often detour sidewalk traffic by riding up onto a berm or into the street’s bike lanes, she said. “That’s where you have the near misses.”

And one portion of the sidewalk doesn’t have any buffer between the roadway and students except for a narrow bicycle lane, Torpey said.

However, safety projects, costing up to $60,000, will soon be underway. This includes 230 feet of new sidewalk and installation of 320 feet of new guardrails, said Mike Gunn, director of the Everett School District’s facilities and operations. The projects are expected to begin within the next month and be completed by February.

“I think it’s great that they’re recognizing (there’s a problem) and doing something about it,” Torpey said. “It’s putting a barrier between children and vehicles.”

Both Torpey and Slaven credited Shelley Petillo, Penny Creek’s principal, with continuing to push for the safety improvements.

“I always have concerns about kids on 132nd Street,” Petillo said. “It’s a busy street. People aren’t always watching for kids. We’re also talking about little kids who by nature don’t make good judgment calls sometimes.”

Now, approximately 80 percent of students who don’t have bus transportation are using car pools, Torpey said.

Torpey said she hopes other improvements, such as a trail through the nearby Pioneer Trails subdivision can be made as well.

That’s a proposal that’s under consideration, Gunn said. “We have been … trying to work out a solution that would give us another walking route to the north or northeast from Penny Creek Elementary School.”

The path would most likely have to cut through land on the Archbishop Murphy High School campus as well as land owned by the Housing Authority of Snohomish County, he said.

“Even beyond those two larger property owners, there’s potentially two to three homeowners associations that would be involved, depending on the route,” he said.

Torpey said the guardrails and sidewalk upgrades are one step in improving safety. “It could save a child’s life,” she said.

She said she would consider switching to having her daughter walk to school instead of using car pools, especially if the walking path is constructed through Pioneer Trails.

Slaven, though, said she still has worries over safety. “I’m not saying that the guardrails aren’t something,” she said. “I just don’t know if it will be enough.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com

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