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Gainesville Preschool Students’ Parents Concerned About Speeding Near School

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The Continuum, a graduate and professional student-housing complex completed in 2011, shares a road with the First Presbyterian Preschool, where parents and administrators are saying the Continuum the cause of increased traffic and speeding.

A Gainesville preschool’s administrators want parents and city police to help stop motorists allegedly speeding in front of their school.

The administrators and some parents worry children attending the school will get hurt, but local officials say not much can be done.

The drop-off area for students of First Presbyterian Preschool, 106 SW Third St., shares a road with a parking garage exit from The Continuum, a graduate and professional student-housing complex.

Around 70 to 80 children were loaded and unloaded each day without concern before the garage was completed about a year ago, preschool director Lisa Hershkowitz said.

“I see people speeding, texting or looking on their phones while they’re driving by the preschool,” Hershkowitz said. “It just takes one person hitting and killing a child.”

Parents and school administrators have recently seen close calls but are unsure how to improve the situation, she said. She wants parents to write letters to the city voicing complaints.

The preschool shared its concerns when the building was in development, city assistant public works director Phil Mann said.

A traffic study done after the garage was built showed barely any speeding, plus the road is too small for an effective sign, he said.

Previously, two entrances existed for the Southwest First Avenue drop-off area. One was on a one-way street privately owned by the church. Another was on Southwest Third Street.

The front of the First Presbyterian Preschool, where about 70 to 80 children attend from ages 3 months to 5 years old, is located at 106 S.W. 3rd St., but its drop-off zone is on a street school officials say is home to increased speeding and traffic since the opening of a parking garage owned by The Continuum.

Once the garage was opened, drivers began speeding and even going the wrong way on the private street, Hershkowitz said.

The garage was designed with a dip at the exit to make speeding difficult without damaging a car, said David Braden, regional vice president of Capstone On-Campus Management, which manages The Continuum.

“Of course we want all of the kids at the preschool to stay safe,” Braden said.

Gainesville traffic operations engineer Matt Weisman said the city has explored ways to help heavily trafficked areas by using crosswalks, expanded city police presence and rectangular flashing beacons.

Near schools and parks, the beacons help slow down traffic, he said. Pedestrian crosswalk signs seem to have a lesser effect. The signs are hit by cars and need increased maintenance, putting a toll on the budget.

“If it was a problem, of course we would have to go to the city commission with a plan to put in crosswalks or a speed hump and get funding,” he said.

For that to happen, a test would have to show 85 percent of drivers go at least five miles per hour above the speed limit, Weisman said. Usually, tests show speeding isn’t actually an issue.

Ridgewood Park resident Michael Andreu said traffic and speeding drivers have returned to the neighborhood after a speed sign was removed.

The sign was installed after the 46-year-old’s letters convinced the city to do a speed test. Without the sign, he’s again worried about safety for people walking around nearby Westside Middle School.

“We have no true solution to the problem,” Andreu said. “We’re just trying to be patient and not get frustrated.”

A view of SW 1st Avenue, a road shared by motorists leaving the Continuum parking garage and the First Presbyterian Preschool. Parents and administrators say the garage is to blame for heavier traffic and speeding which has lead to safety concerns for children in the drop-off zone.

Weisman said the city installed beacons on Southwest 62nd Boulevard where speeding and traffic caused multiple pedestrian and bicycle accidents.

The preschool’s street has on-street parking and diagonal parking to naturally slow down cars, he said.

“A lot of this is education,” Weisman said. “People need to be reminded there is a school and a church in that area.”

As for the Continuum, tenants were recently warned not to speed on the shared road, Braden said.

The city should install traffic signs or speed bumps to deter motorists, Hershkowitz said. This would be more effective than emails or fliers from the complex’s office.

Mann said the city temporarily halted all traffic devices such as speed bumps because of delays in emergency vehicle response times. The street has also become narrower through the years due to development.

“The city tried to do whatever we could about the issue,” Mann said. He said the church putting up its own traffic signs is illegal.

Gainesville Police Department spokesman Ben Tobias said he wasn’t aware of a speeding issue, but police could be sent to monitor area traffic.

Two citations were given in the area since last year, GPD records show. Neither involved the preschool or the complex’s parking garage.

Hershkowitz said there have been at least two accidents since the parking garage was built, though no children were hurt in either.

Shannon Bloodworth, 34, said the speeding has been so bad recently she no longer trusts her 4-year-old daughter, Ella, to safely get to the preschool door from Bloodworth’s car.

“I’m sure city taxpayers would prefer a sign go up instead of someone being hurt or killed because they couldn’t find a place to put the sign,” Bloodworth said.

About Jeanna Arroyo

Jeanna is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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