News

Editorial: Making streets safe for kids walking to school

 

A mother's anger and the tempest that ensued over a recent incident involving a Menlo Park police officer's decision to help a young child get home after school has resulted in a welcome dialogue about children's safety on our streets. The incident has also provoked misdirected criticism of the officer and the police department, sometimes crossing the line into hyperbolic silliness.

A lively discussion on the Almanac's online forum, Town Square, includes comments ranging from the benefits of allowing kids to walk or bike to school, to whether the police officer overstepped his duty. The most extreme comments suggest that the incident was evidence that our local department represents a "police state."

The incident in question occurred earlier this month when Sgt. Jaime Romero saw a small boy walking home from Encinal School. According to Cmdr. Dave Bertini, it appeared to the sergeant that the boy was struggling to cross the roadway at Laurel Street and Glenwood Avenue, so he pulled over. When he asked the child his age, the boy said he was 6, according to Cmdr. Bertini, who reviewed the video recording of the encounter. In fact, the boy was nearly 9. And, he couldn't tell the officer what his home address was, although he was able to provide his mother's cellphone number.

Did Sgt. Romero's decision to call for a community service officer to take the boy home in an unmarked car constitute an overreach in his duties to protect the public? The boy's mother says it does. Her son had her permission to walk home from school, and the sergeant's interference could lead to the child's fear of doing so in the future, she says. "The police would do better to keep an eye on the drivers and be supportive of the pedestrians," she told the Almanac.

Few would disagree that more police on the streets with "an eye on the drivers" who put walkers and bicyclists at high risk would be welcome. But now, let's return to the real world. How many police officers would the city have to hire to patrol the areas around all of our schools, every school day, to cite speeding, or texting, or stop-sign-running drivers? Schools in Menlo Park and Atherton have been struggling with the question of how to get kids to and from school safely for years, but they also understand that some of the same time-constrained, stressed-out parents dropping the kids off are the same ones who are putting walking and bicycling children in danger.

The community discussion taking place over the appropriateness of the police sergeant's intervention takes a more productive turn with the dialogue about how we -- all of us who drive the streets used by our kids to get to school -- make those streets safer by policing ourselves. Parent Erin Glanville writes in her blog for the Almanac (at AlmanacNews.com), " ... the root of the problem doesn't lie with the officer or the mother's decision (to let her son walk to school); the problem is the rest of us who contribute to making a walk to school unsafe."

That's a sound observation, and thinking about that fact -- and our personal role in correcting the problem -- is a far better way of thinking about the incident than second-guessing a well-intentioned police sergeant concerned about one child's safety on his way home from school.

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Comments

8 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 24, 2014 at 10:37 am

The major cause of driver frustration and thus dangerous driving at about 3pm every afternoon is the traffic congestion caused by all the parents and nannies picking up their kids at the same time from close to 20 public, church and private schools in Menlo Park and Atherton.

Those schools include Menlo Park City School District, Las Lomitas School District, Ravenswood School District, Menlo School, Phillips Brooks School, Peninsula School, Sacred Heart Schools, Nativity, St. Raymond and M-A High School, plus a few others.

Perhaps it's time to require all the schools to go back to using school buses, bikes and feet and to require Menlo Park and Atherton to install adequate sidewalks, bike lanes and street crossings.


5 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 24, 2014 at 10:43 am

The city seems to be spending a lot of time on traffic law enforcement (which is good), but too little on the other parts of traffic safety: driver education and traffic engineering. If drivers are speeding and running stop signs in school zones, maybe the street designs make it too easy to speed and too hard to see the crosswalks. Narrowing the lanes really does help to make streets safer for pedestrians. Wider bike lanes make the streets safer for both bicyclists and pedestrians. There are a lot of other well known street design techniques that the city can use, including crossing lights, brighter street lights, bulb outs, etc. Unfortunately, Menlo Park is so far behind the times that some busy streets don't even have sidewalks. How serious is the city really about pedestrian safety?


2 people like this
Posted by PV resident
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Sep 24, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Whatever would blame the schools and kids. Driver frustration could be handled if each driver took personal responsibility for giving themselves enough time and behaving less stressed. Also, these "frustrated drivers" seem to be everywhere misbehaving all of the time by speeding, rolling stops, texting, driving aggressively even where their are no students. I think there are just a lot of drivers who disregard common sense rules. Another suggests that the city needs to build sidewalks, replace bulbs?, put up more signals, and basically spend a lot of money on a problem easily solved if the community of drivers drove more carefully. This would allow police to spend more time on other crimes rather than baby sitting drivers and their thoughtless and dangerous behavior.


1 person likes this
Posted by Cannot agree
a resident of another community
on Sep 24, 2014 at 1:17 pm

If the police officer in question had not made the snide remark "I'm not commenting on your parenting" to the mother, I would agree with this editorial. But when he said that, the gist of his behavior morphed from [portion removed; keep it civil] and worthy of criticism.


3 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Sep 24, 2014 at 1:23 pm

A lot of the shoddy driving I see comes from parents. Maybe they should really rethink how they drive if they want kids to be safe. I also get tired of all the kid-centric stuff. I want to be safe, too. That means giving PLENTY of time to get somewhere, being patient, paying attention and making driving defensively a priority. One can't multitask and drive defensively.


5 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of another community
on Sep 24, 2014 at 1:36 pm

I agree with "whatever" - the culture of parents dropping their child off at school has evolved for many reasons and should be reversed. For one, it prevents children from developing the maturity and sense of responsibility that comes from learning how to get themselves to school, which is something that many of us did when we were children. We do also need to bring back funding for school-to-home transportation, which has been eliminated by many school district due to cost. It is so much more efficient for school buses to pick up children along a route than it is for every family to drive their child to school (thus contributing to traffic and climate change.) I walked to the school bus stop and rode the school bus to school from 1st grade until late high school. We also live in a culture of fear, even though the chances of something bad happening to a child on the way to school is very rare, and even rarer if they buddy up and don't travel alone. And the high performance/high stress environment that we have cultivated here on the Peninsula, along with an alarming sense of entitlement, results in a lot of selfish, "me first" behavior among drivers and bicyclists which endangers others.

Finally to "cannot agree." We don't know the tone of voice or context of the officer's comment. Said one way, he could have intended to reassure the mother that he was not intending to criticizing her parenting. Said another, it could be snide. Neither you nor I heard him say it and the mother was clearly startled and defensive by the fact that the officer was concerned for the child's safety, so her recounting of the remark is colored by her own feelings. You've made quite a jump with your assumption that it was snidely said and snidely intended.


1 person likes this
Posted by Cannot agree
a resident of another community
on Sep 24, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Parent, that was the mother's reaction to the comment. I won't automatically disbelieve her.


1 person likes this
Posted by cannot assume
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 24, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Cannot agree, the mother didn't exactly provide the context for that comment now, did she? Would you feel the same way if the officer was responding to a question like "Are you commenting on my parenting?" Because the context isn't offered in the story, why are you making assumptions?


Like this comment
Posted by Cannot agree
a resident of another community
on Sep 24, 2014 at 2:06 pm

What we know is the mother felt offended by the exchange, and offered that comment as evidence the officer behaved badly. Her interpretation of the context, tone, etc., was negative.


3 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 24, 2014 at 2:51 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

@Cannot agree. "What we know is the mother felt offended" We do?? Again you are assuming facts not proven. You and I were not there.


1 person likes this
Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 24, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Transportation to and from school for children was handled very well years ago - parent funded busing. Bus routes were arranged to transport children whose parents pre-paid for a school year. It worked very well for my family. It was also much safer when the kids east of El Camino went to Encinal Middle School. Parents drive kids to Hillview now because very few want their 10-12 year olds biking across El Cam, especially in winter darkness or, if it ever happens again, rainy weather. That's completely understandable from a safety viewpoint. From a quality-of-life for residents, not so much. Centralizing all middle schoolers in one residential neighborhood was a big mistake for everyone but the school district.

Woe to the drivers trying to get from El Camino to Middlefield by car on Encinal during in mid-afternoon. School pick-up traffic is terrible. Drive time on Valparaiso between Alameda & ECR has quadrupled in the last 15 years.

It's more dangerous than ever for pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, and don't forget the skateboarders! Too many streets here lack sidewalks. Amidst this mess of a single middle school a long way from home for kids in the Willows & Menlo Oaks, some people want to increase residential density & build more housing. Without the necessary roads to handle either our current or future traffic volume, how does that help any of our residents?


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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 24, 2014 at 8:47 pm

PV resident
Please tell me how I blamed the kids. I did no such thing. I am afraid for the kids. Perhaps one should open their eyes a bit and realizes the inadequacies of the local transportation infrastructure which was meant to handle a population one half of what it is now. Also perhaps some realization that you can't change folks' driving habits and attitudes by waving a wand fairy princess style might prove useful.

As I mentioned the kids aren't the cause of the traffic congestion. However the schools need to emphasize pedestrian and bicycle safety on a regular basis with the students. Today a middle school boy rode right thru the stop sign at a T-intersection. I figured that was going to happen due to his speed and chatting at a friend, so I calmly waited till he rolled thru and in turn rolled my eyes at him while shaking my head. At least he was wearing a helmet to protect what little common sense might still reside in his head.


Like this comment
Posted by Grandmother
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 24, 2014 at 9:41 pm

Yes, I walked to school for 8 years, then took a school bus. Can't say I liked it, especially in the cold winter, but I did it, crossing a heavily trafficed street with no sidewalks. I learned how. That said, I'm not recommending it. However, I wonder whether a center for car pooling would be useful. Are there any techie parents out there who could set up something like that? Sometimes parents do it among their neighbors, but I think a central "office", with parents signing up, after agreeing to rules---to be worked out by a committee---would help. Four kids in a car removes 3 cars from the streets. While I think buses are best, if that doesn't work, parents, take this into your own hands. Form a committee, see what you can come up with. I think parents are incredibly creative. It won't solve everyone's problem, but it could solve it for many.


Like this comment
Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 24, 2014 at 10:58 pm

It's really a free for all around Hillview. Not much can be done about the side streets but here are two suggestions. At the corner of Santa Cruz and Olive there is only one crossing guard. The kids crossing Santa Cruz itself need a crossing guard but another one is needed for those kids that after getting across Santa Cruz then need to cross Olive. One guard cannot safeguard both crossing though then are contiguous. Secondly, we shouldn't have been blinded by the 'traffic calming' on Santa Cruz which probably cost $2M and should have spent the money on sidewalks, wide ones for the kids. Thirdly, we cannot expect the kids to be ultra careful. They'll jostle each other and get into traffic. Maybe we should have people stationed around the school, especially on Santa Cruz Ave, holding SLOW DOWN signs like are used during street construction. Instead of complaining let us do something.


Like this comment
Posted by Cannot agree
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2014 at 7:39 am

SteveC, here is what the original Almanac article said:

""The officer tried to scare us about 'how dangerous it is out there' and told me repeatedly that he could 'not comment on my parenting,' which I understood to mean that he disapproved of my parenting," Maria Cortez told the Almanac."

I am making the huge leap that Ms. Cortez felt offended at (at least what she believed to be) an expression of disapproval of her parenting.


2 people like this
Posted by why make assumptions?
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 25, 2014 at 8:15 am

Cannot agree, how does the mother's taking offense at "what she believed to be" an expression of disapproval of her parenting skills translate in your mind to the cop's being a jerk, which you clearly accused him of above, in so many words? I don't know about you but I know MANY parents with paper thin skins when it comes to perceived (or real) criticisms of their kids, and misinterpretation of reality is a common side effect of that condition.

The point is, the article unfortunately doesn't tell us the context of the cop's statement or of the mother's statement to the reporter. So why make assumptions? As another poster stated above, we weren't there.


Like this comment
Posted by Cannot agree
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2014 at 8:18 am

To why make assumptions?. you're making one as well: that in the conflict between the cop and the mother, the mother was not entitled to be aggrieved/the comment was not delivered in a patronizing or condescending way. You have as much basis for your assumption as I have for mine.

However, remember this: just because someone is a cop in Menlo Park, does not mean he or she will always behave properly and is entitled to receive an automatic benefit of the doubt in every interaction with a citizen. They still have a cop on their force who was seeing a prostitute while on duty.


2 people like this
Posted by why make assumptions?
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 25, 2014 at 8:35 am

Cannot agree, please point to the section of my post that indicates I'm assuming that the cop's comment wasn't delivered in a condescending way.

If you read what I wrote carefully, you'll see that I said the context of the statement wasn't provided, we weren't there, so we -- and that includes me -- shouldn't make assumptions. I have NO opinion as to whether the cop was out of line because I don't know. But I do strongly believe that it's wrong to jump to conclusions and make judgements unless we have the necessary information.

If you can cite something I wrote that supports your argument that I'm assuming anything, please do.


Like this comment
Posted by Cannot agree
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2014 at 8:44 am

Ok, fair enough. But you would agree, I hope, there is reason to believe that the cop at least may have behaved inappropriately as opposed they absolutely no indication he did anything wrong. What the Almanac should do is put a FOIA request in for the cop's recording of the incident. I believe they all video or at least audio record each interaction with the public to protect themselves.


3 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 25, 2014 at 2:09 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

@ Cannot agree: I read the article and do not agree with your statement. I stand by my comment.


1 person likes this
Posted by Memories
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2014 at 2:46 pm

That's the problem - the mother's sense of entitlement. Get over it, lady. And again, how did this make the news?


Like this comment
Posted by Well...let's see now...
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 26, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Well let's see now... We're not in the 50's anymore, our population has grown, there are more cars on the road, (nor longer just the "Family Car") more technology than ever- if you don't have some sort of technology on your person, you were indeed a time traveler from the 50's.
So....To all the speeders, texters, pedestrians, drivers, cyclists and yes that also means our civil employees....basically everyone---- You MUST take responsibility for all of your actions, with more training if needed and learn to live in a community together- peacefully.
Pretty simple huh?
Otherwise we'll see and hear more incidents and or debates like this.
Peace and Wisdom to All~


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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