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Wheels & Heels: Making Tracks to Fifth Avenue Academy

Decatur officials have prepared a plan to make it safe for students to walk and bike to Fifth Avenue, which opens this summer.

In fairy tales, they use trails of breadcrumbs, cookies or candy to lure children to follow a path.

In Decatur, they’re going to use round five-inch medallions.

To encourage students to walk to in August, Decatur will mark a trail to the new school. Round medallions will be placed every 660 feet – that’s an eighth of a mile – along the route that city officials think is the safest for students walking to school. As an added bonus, anyone walking near the school will be able to use the markers to tell how far they’ve walked.

The markers are part of the transportation plan for Fifth Avenue Academy, which opens  to fourth and fifth graders in the City Schools of Decatur school system on Aug. 2. Bruce Roaden, the former Renfroe Middle School principal who now directs school leadership teams and community relations, will be principal of the new school.

As part of the community’s "Safe Routes to School" program, the city is gearing up to provide maps of the ideal routes to school, according to Decatur City Planner Amanda Thompson and Assistant City Manager David Junger.

Volunteers have been walking and riding the routes, looking for potential traffic hazards and street maintenance needs. The city plans to trim hedges, repaint crosswalks, and do whatever else it takes to make it safe to encourage as many students as possible to walk or cycle to school.

Decatur Police studied traffic and vehicle speed on Oakview in February, concluding that the average traffic was less than a car a minute in either direction in the morning, and a bit more than two cars a minute in the afternoon. Police proposed adding school zone lights and crossing guards to make the area around the school safer during the hour before and after school.

The proposed Fifth Avenue traffic plan has school buses loading and unloading on Oakview in the eastbound lane and against the curb.  Two school staff members will be posted along the sidewalk near the loading zone to make sure students are safe during drop-off and pick-up times.

Many parents are likely to be dropping off students in private vehicles, since the city’s school bus schedule is designed to get students to school at least 20 minutes – often 30 minutes -- before school starts to enable students to eat breakfast there.  So, parents who are dropping off or picking up students will turn onto Fifth Avenue and into the U-shaped parking lot.

Staff members will be posted on Fifth Avenue near the school entrance and near the parking lot to help direct traffic. The school is asking for a crossing guard at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Oakview.

When approaching the school, the Safe Routes plan directs all foot and bicycle traffic to cross Oakview near where it intersects with Fifth. If the school markers prove popular, the  said.

The parking plan around the school proposes that on most days, cars will park diagonally on Fifth Avenue. Four spots closest to the entrance will be reserved for disabled parking. At least two spots will be set aside for 15-minute visitor parking, for the convenience of parents picking up or dropping off students during the day.

Staff and faculty will park in a small lot near the multi-purpose room. For large events, two neighborhood churches within a block of the school have agreed to let the school use their parking lots.

Decatur likes to pride itself on being a green city, and the location of the new school --further from the center of Decatur than Glennwood – provides a challenge.

To avoid adding car pollution to our morning air, parents ought to encourage their students to ride their bikes, walk to school, or ride the school bus. If that’s inconvenient, parents can try to carpool with other parents in the morning. In the afternoons, students should be able to ride school buses home, or walk. 

But we really do live in a fairy tale if we think many parents won't be driving their kids to school. So, we can expect heavier traffic in Oakhurst in the morning and afternoon, and we hope parents will remember to be patient and not speed along residential streets, even if they’re late. I expect Decatur Police will be prepared to remind them with expensive citations for speeding in school zones.

Because, it’s only in fairy tales that a kiss can awaken a sleeping princess. In reality, a child injured by a speeding car will require doctors, whose magic is limited.

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