Parents argue lack of school zone endangers kids

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

SUGAR LAND, Texas - Every weekday, 1,200 students are released from Fort Settlement Middle School in Sugar Land and about 100 of those kids have to cross a newly-opened stretch of University Boulevard to get home. Parents and even school administrators are arguing not having a school zone on this stretch is asking for trouble when it comes to the kids' safety.

"The reality is we have children crossing this intersection and there are cars zipping by at 40 miles an hour," said Sardar Imam, whose daughter, a seventh-grader, attends the school.

When the portion of University near Elkins alongside the school opened, parents were immediately concerned that a school zone to slow traffic was not put in place.

"We're not asking for anything out of the ordinary. The things we are asking for is what they'd normally put at almost any other school zone," parent Peter Narang said.

"That's very dangerous," resident Neha Dixit said.

Parents argue that since many children have to cross this intersection to get home, a school zone is needed, especially since there are school zones on the other streets near the school. The school's principal, Julie Diaz, fired off an email to city officials writing, "We must be proactive in this situation and not wait for something tragic to happen before we do the right thing."

Another concern is there is no crossing signal on one side of the intersection, which means kids can only get about halfway across before the light turns green. School officials are now having to take positions on two corners to make sure students do not cross on the side of the street without a signal.

"This light … does not give more than 15 seconds for someone to cross," said Imam.

The reason this became a concern for parents and school officials is because the side of the street without crossing signals is typically where school administrators wanted children to cross the street. The reason school officials wanted children crossing on that side of the street is because it is on the opposite side of where numerous cars turn in to pick up and drop off children.

City officials argue they are addressing these concerns. City spokesman Doug Adolph said engineers lowered the planned speed limit from 45 miles per hour to 40 miles per hour on University. Adolph said the city also installed stop lights at the intersection of University and Elkins, which was not originally planned. Adolph said a traffic study showed, according to state regulations, no need for a school zone because the street does not run in front of the school and there are no student drop off points in the area.

However, Adolph said the city will conduct another traffic study in six months to determine if a school zone is needed. Adolph said this portion of University just opened last Thursday and it will take that amount of time for driver to develop new driving habits.

"It all boils down to the safety of our kids, whatever we can do to avoid any problems with them is what we need to do," said Narang.

Fort Bend Independent School District officials also sent a letter to all parents about the concerns over this intersection. Part of that statement reads, "We are currently monitoring this situation and communicating our concerns with City of Sugar Land officials, who have been responsive to our concerns."

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