Walking to school safer in Novato

By Jennifer Gollan, IJ reporter

The recent installation of yellow warning poles at two crosswalks on Sutro Avenue in front of Pleasant Valley School in Novato - aimed at making the area safer for pedestrians - prompted about 300 youngsters and their parents to walk or bicycle to school yesterday.

Students and their parents marked the occasion with the school's first "Walk-to-School-Day," aimed at improving children's health and cutting down on congestion.

At the end of January, parents at the school raised $1,200 from other parents, local businesses and the Novato Police Officers Association for the "Pedestrian Gateways" - yellow poles on either side of two crosswalks at the 700 block of Sutro Avenue - aimed at reminding drivers to slow for pedestrians. The city installed the poles the week of Feb. 16.

Parents, school and city officials said the four-foot poles - complete with signs that read: "Yield to pedestrians" - have influenced drivers to observe the 25-mph limit.

"The most important part was to raise the awareness that this was a school zone," said school Principal Kathy Marshall. "We have received a wonderful response with drivers slowing down.

"In general, there was speeding by all drivers who would come up and down Sutro Avenue," she said. New paving installed late last year appeared to encourage them, she said.

"We were concerned about our children coming to school and leaving school," she said.

That's when Colleen Cornell, chairwoman of Pleasant Valley Safe Routes to School, a local group boosting the safety of students on their way to and from school, stepped in.

At the end of January, the group spearheaded the fund-raising effort, collecting $1,200 in just one day, Marshall said. Cornell said she hoped that the improved crosswalks would ensure the safety of her first-grader, Sarah.

"We walk to school and what I am hoping for is to feel safer with the cars driving so fast," Cornell said. "I hope that it will be safer for kids to bike ride to school."

Novato Mayor Pat Eklund, the keynote speaker at yesterday's morning assembly before a throng of parents and students at the school, said the benefits of walking or bicycling to school are two-pronged: improving health through exercise and reducing traffic congestion.

"It causes the drivers along that street to slow down and to pay more attention to children that may be walking or bicycling or crossing the street," Eklund said. "It is healthier for the youth - they get exercise. And it reduces the congestion for parents dropping their kids to school."

Yesterday's assembly included the presentation of about 110 student posters promoting driving etiquette. The signs, with slogans including "Stop Look and Listen," "Get off the Phone," and "Slow Down for Kids," were displayed around the school yesterday.

Contact Jennifer Gollan via e-mail at jgollan@marinij.com

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