Liberty Elementary ready for safer crossings

Salem school wins a Safe Routes to School grant

Liberty Elementary school bus, on its way to collect students.

Chaos often reigns when the bell rings at Liberty Elementary School in south Salem.

As parents try to make their way to the parking lots for drop-off or pick-up, cars stack up on Liberty Street South, especially in the afternoon. Meanwhile, students ready to go home cross the street mid-block, near the school’s front door, instead of walking to the crosswalks.

The crossings are nearly two city blocks apart – one near the 7-Eleven at Skyline and one south of the school at Boone Road – and there are at least three apartment complexes across the street.

“That’s an issue for two reasons: we see pedestrians crossing mid-block especially at drop-off and pick-up times,” says Anthony Gamallo, senior transportation planner for the city of Salem Public Works Department. “That’s in combination with a significant distance between the school flashers, so drivers might forget that they’re in a school zone.”

Gamallo and other officials from the school and the city took note of the concerns about safe crossings at Liberty and applied for a Safe Routes to School grant through ODOT’s Infrastructure Program.

Earlier this year, the school was named a winner of $145,000 to fund a median island and a rapid flashing beacon. Construction is due to begin in 2021.

“We have been fortunate enough in this case to identify the Safe Routes to School Grant opportunity with an island in the middle where the students come down from a set of stairs and will immediately cross,” says Michael Shields, transportation manager for the Salem-Keizer School District. “We will be putting in a crosswalk crossing guard at that location to further enhance student safety.”

In addition to the median crossing island, the grant money will also fund a rapid flashing beacon to remind drivers that they are indeed in a school zone.

Diana Benson, who has children in preschool and kindergarten at Liberty, is hopeful for the coming changes.

“There’s some impatient drivers going on their morning route, and it gets kind of frustrating because we are pedestrians trying to cross, and even at the traffic light they get antsy too,” she says. “I think at least with the flashing lights it will be in their face, like, ‘Hey you need to stop!’ ”

Visit the website to learn more about the Safe Routes to School program.