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091416-mis-nws-crossing

Andrew Hill, the store manager at Missoula Fresh Market on South Reserve Street, stops traffic on Tuesday at a pedestrian crossing on 39th Street for Meadow Hill Middle School students crossing the street. After two students were hit by vehicles last school year, Fresh Market management has helped out as crossing guards, and Missoula County Public Schools would like to see a more permanent solution to slow traffic down for students.

A car hit seventh-grader William Dauwe, sending him to the hospital and traumatizing his friend who saw it happen.

Dauwe was crossing the street at 39th and South Reserve streets after school in April when he was hit. He and his friend, Aiden McDonald, are now in eighth grade at Meadow Hill Middle School.

McDonald is still upset by what he saw that day.

Dauwe was in the crosswalk slightly in front of McDonald, passing in front of a car waiting to turn left onto South Reserve. A car in the next lane didn't realize the turning car was waiting for children to cross, and kept driving, hitting Dauwe on his right side.

"I blacked out," Dauwe said. "The next thing I know, I'm flat on my back in the grass."

McDonald said he also blacked out for a few seconds after his friend was hit. Then he saw Dauwe on the ground, rushed over and grabbed the cellphone out of Dauwe's pocket. He called 911. Parents at the intersection called Meadow Hill principal Chris Stevens. She and assistant principal Alanna Vaneps ran to the intersection.

Stevens rode with Dauwe in the ambulance. He ended up with a minor concussion, and bumps and bruises. McDonald was "white as a ghost" and clearly shaken by the incident, Vaneps said.

It's not the first time a child has been hit there. Just a month prior to Dauwe's accident, a car clipped the bicycle of a Cold Springs Elementary student, knocking him to the ground. 

***

After the accidents, Stevens, Vaneps and teacher Tyler Bowen manned the intersection as crossing guards before and after school every day until the end of the school year.

Once they were in the thick of it, they realized what a problem the intersection presents.

"It's scary," Stevens said. "It's absolutely scary out there. People are on their phones, they're speeding."

There is a crosswalk at 39th and South Reserve, but no signs indicating there's a school nearby. While cars use the center lane to turn onto Reserve toward the school, it's not technically a turn lane. Drivers passing on the outside lane may not realize that a turning car is stopped for children. The speed limit is 35 mph, and does not drop at the intersection. Cars heading into town off of U.S. Highway 93 are "coming in hot," Stevens said.

She wants to see the speed limit lowered, a school zone sign and blinking lights to make it safer for students walking or biking to school or getting off the Mountain Line bus that drops off on the other side of the street.

The issue, said Superintendent Mark Thane, is any changes there would have to go through the state.

"The problem we face is we have to go through a governance agency with regard to any items involving transportation, and 39th and South Reserve is actually a state highway in that corridor," Thane said. 

"We have had success working with government agencies, but it's a large process. They need to make sure they don't create a problem with traffic flow there. It sounds counter-intuitive, but sometimes when you put signals or traffic calming devices when they're not appropriate, it creates a traffic hazard they deem to be more problematic than the crossing."

The plan at this point is to get traffic engineers to study the intersection, and recommend the best option to Missoula County Public Schools.

"Obviously, we're concerned with the safety and security of those kids when they cross what's obviously a busy street," he said. "Traffic engineers will have to give us information in that regard before we can recommend a final option."

***

Staff at Missoula Fresh Market – which is right next to the intersection – got word of the accidents, since many Meadow Hill and Cold Springs families shop at their store. On the first day of school this fall, store manager Andrew Hill, assistant store manager Dan Goodmanson and owner Ron Ramsbacher took over as crossing guards at the intersection – "a no-brainer," Hill said.

"None of us want to see a tragedy there," he said.

Stevens is thankful for the market's support, "but we need more."

While it's always been an issue, school officials say traffic is getting worse on 39th, particularly with population growth in the area and this fall with the Hillview Way road closure and detour.

"It's truly not safe, not for adults, not for kids," Hill said.

Vaneps wants to see the intersection mimic C.S. Porter Middle School, which has a lowered speed zone in front of the school on South Reserve, blinking lights and pedestrians can press a button to cross the busy street.

Meadow Hill and Cold Springs each have about 500 students.

"There is not a single sign in this area that tells people there's a school back here," Stevens said.

Meadow Hill is due for upgrades in MCPS' facilities plans. It includes a traffic mitigation plan in front of the school, an area that gets extremely congested, but that doesn't extend to the intersection. Bond dollars could not be used for that purpose.

Dauwe and McDonald both hope changes will be made at the intersection.

"I hope it doesn't ever happen again," Dauwe said.

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