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City and ACPS leaders focus on transportation improvements near schools

The scene of a crash outside Jefferson Houston Elementary School, March 29, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

Alexandria leaders are working on permanently reducing speed limits and adding speed cameras in school zones.

The news comes in the wake of the last month’s crash that injured a student walking home outside Jefferson Houston Elementary School.

Mayor Justin Wilson is proposing the addition of five photo speed cameras at school crossing zones, which would cost $490,000. The locations of the cameras would be determined by the Department of Transportation & Environmental Services, and the cameras would be paid by ticket revenues.

Additionally, last month City Council granted City Manager Jim Parajon the authority to reduce speed limits to 15 miles per hour in business and residential districts. Parajon is considering reducing speed limits to 15 miles per hour in school zones, according to Yon Lambert, director of the city’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services.

“There is no plan to make the speed limit be 15 miles an hour city-wide,” Lambert told the City Council/School Board Subcommittee on Tuesday night. “We have been looking, however, at whether we could be introducing slow zones, primarily around schools and in certain residential areas. That is how that tool would potentially be used.”

Lambert said that the city has accomplished about 100 of the 250 recommendations on school-related transportation improvements within ACPS that were outlined in 2017 Safe Routes To School audits. He also said that the city recently received a grant that will allow it to continue conducting the audits, which include filling a sidewalk gap near James A. Polk Elementary School and Avenue near Pelham Street.

Parajon also included $100,000 toward Safe Routes to School projects in his budget, and $4 million in funding increases will be  necessary to tackle remaining projects over the next five years.

Wilson said that a shortage of 10 school crossing guards in schools around the city. There are 27 budgeted part-time positions, but Wilson said that ACPS should consider stop-gap and long term solutions in a future budget to fill the positions and keep them occupied.

“We have a bad problem,” Wilson said. “It’s causing us to have to grab people from patrol and other places to fill these positions. And then a lot of them are just not filled… You have schools that just do not have crossing guards out in front.”

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that he’d work on crossing guard recruitment with his public affairs team and with Police Chief Don Hayes to set up training sessions for new staffers.

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