Parents say close calls are a daily occurrence for students walking or biking to the Hilliard City Schools buildings near Main Street and Cemetery and Scioto Darby roads.
Walking to school should not resemble a game of "Frogger."
But several parents say "close calls" are a daily occurrence for Hilliard City Schools students walking or biking to the cluster of buildings near Main Street and Cemetery and Scioto Darby roads -- even if police officers are around.
"If you're a pedestrian, you'd better be on your 'A game' every second," said Tom Collins, who explained he began accompanying his daughter to Heritage Middle School after she was nearly struck in October by a driver who failed to yield at a crosswalk.
He said impatient or inexperienced drivers, students who sometimes jaywalk and simply too much congestion near Hilliard's triangular double-roundabout intersection create a "high-threat environment."
Six of the district's 24 buildings are on a mile-long stretch of Scioto Darby Road, from just east of High School Drive and west to Leppert Road. The McVey Innovative Learning Center, Scioto Darby Elementary School, Hilliard Station Sixth Grade School, Memorial Middle School, Heritage Middle School and Darby High School form what Collins refers to as the district's "mega-campus."
Farrah McKenzie, whose 12-year-son, Elijah Lisboa, attends Hilliard Station, describes the area as "hectic."
"It's not a safe place to cross," she said. "I worry every day about a student being hit."
McKenzie said she requires Elijah to wear a helmet and to outfit his bicycle with LED lights as he crosses Main Street near Grace Street to get to Hilliard Station.
"Still, he has a lot of close calls," she said.
Elijah said he makes eye contact with drivers when he can but "some drivers are just stubborn" about not allowing him to cross streets.
Fay Little, a crossing guard who helps students get to and from the Scioto Darby and Hilliard Station buildings, said drivers not only disregard her but also occasionally display contempt.
"I can't say how many times I've waved to drivers to slow down. ... Some flip me off," said Little, a crossing guard for 15 years.
She said she is aware of the potential danger for pedestrians, herself included.
Little works in front of the same building where crossing guard Diane Sharp was killed the morning of April 10, 2008, when the driver of a dump truck failed to stop at a crosswalk.
"It's sad that so many drivers (do not adhere to the speed limit or yield to pedestrians)," she said. "I keep my fingers crossed that no one gets hurt."
However, she said, she has observed that any police presence in the school zone "makes a world of difference" in motorists adhering to the reduced 20-mph speed limit.Video • A crossing guard helps students safely cross Scioto Darby Road at the end of a recent school day.
Collins doesn't agree. He said speeding is "pervasive" and drivers fail to yield, and although he knows police have cited motorists for such violations, "it's not enough."
"There needs to be a more vigorous campaign of negative reinforcement," he said.
For the record
A few incidents near the school buildings and crosswalks have showed up in Hilliard Division of Police reports over the past two years.
On Sept. 20, 2016, an officer cited a 47-year-old woman for failure to yield at a crosswalk after she struck a 12-year-old boy in a crosswalk at Scioto Darby Road and Veterans Memorial Drive.
The woman was turning left to go east on Scioto Darby Road from the driveway of Heritage Middle School, according to the report. The accident was reported at 7:25 a.m.
An officer cited a 76-year-old woman for failure to yield at a crosswalk on Oct. 22, 2015, after she struck a 15-year-old girl in a crosswalk at Leppert Road and Laura Lane as she crossed toward Darby High School. The accident was reported at 6:59 a.m.
On Dec. 14, 2015, officers responded to an accident involving a teenage bicyclist at 6:47 a.m. at Cemetery Road and High School Drive, but no citation was issued.
A 50-year-old man driving north on High School Drive stopped at the stop sign at Cemetery Road and then began to pull forward onto Cemetery, striking a 14-year-old boy riding a bicycle westbound across High School Drive.
Each party had come to a full stop but started forward again at the same time, according to the report.
The report also said the boy's bicycle did not have lights.
Norwich Township medics treated the boy for minor bruises and cuts on his left leg and he was transported privately to a hospital for further evaluation, according to the report.
What's being done
Police Chief Bobby Fisher said officers focus on pedestrian and vehicle safety at every school building while using discretion concerning offenders.
"Our patrol officers and the traffic-safety unit are directed to focus on violations at the start and end of the school day," Fisher said.
The school district has roughly 6,000 students who walk, use bikes or have their own rides to school, according to district spokeswoman Stacie Raterman. About 10,000 ride buses, she said.
Certain school zones have larger traffic volumes and frequencies of violations than others, thus requiring greater attention, Fisher said.
"We have targeted the Scioto Darby school (zones) to reduce speeding and draw attention to pedestrian safety but also regularly monitor other locations," he said.
He said officers are "afforded discretion in appropriately dealing with traffic violations."
"Our general approach to traffic safety relies on education first, which includes media messages and warnings, before taking more extensive enforcement action," Fisher said.
Matt Trombitas, principal of Heritage Middle School, said his students are aware of the potential threats.
"Every school year we begin with a focus on safety for our walkers and bikers (delivered through morning announcements and other mediums)," Trombitas said. "We remind them to be careful and pay attention."
Hilliard school board members and city officials also say they are striving to create a safe environment for students.
School board President Andy Teater said he has reached out to City Council President Nathan Painter about a meeting among district and municipal officials to study the environment in Scioto Darby Road corridor and possible actions to improve safety.
The proposed meeting evolved from a multijurisdictional meeting of local governments in December at Davidson High School that was intended to improve communication among the entities.
"We have heard concerns from several parents about the safety of students, particularly around Main (Street) and Scioto Darby (Road)," Teater said. "I think it's appropriate to get the school district and city together to discuss what can be done to make it safer for our students."
Painter said he has invited other City Council members, police personnel and staff members from the engineering department to attend the meeting.
"We're working on finding a date and lining everyone up," Painter said.
Teater said it was too early to speak about any initiatives but that he wants to begin the process of assessing the conditions "sooner rather than later."
Collins, who has shared his concerns with district and city officials, said he thinks the recent efforts to collaborate will prove to be a benefit.
"I'm glad they're getting together," he said.
Collins acknowledges that one of his chief concerns -- visibility -- should be allayed when students return to school after summer break later this year.
District leaders recently moved back start times at the elementary, sixth-grade and middle schools. The new times will go into effect in August.
Classes will begin at 9:20 a.m. and dismiss at 3:45 p.m. at Alton Darby, Norwich and Scioto Darby elementary schools; classes will begin at 9:05 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m. at other elementary schools. All times will be 15 minutes later than current start and dismissal times.
Hilliard Station and Tharp sixth-grade schools and Heritage, Memorial and Weaver middle schools will start at 8 a.m. and end at 2:45 p.m. next year. The adjusted start times are 30 minutes later than the start time at all three middle schools and Station and 15 minutes later than the start time at Tharp.
Classes at Bradley, Darby and Davidson high schools will continue to begin at 7:40 a.m. and dismiss at 2:32 p.m.