Laconia studying pedestrian safety around school buildings

LACONIA — School and city administrators met last week and identified areas around various city schools where improvements can be made to increase safety.
The request to SAU Business Administrator Ed Emond came from the School Board in the wake of an April accident at the the intersection of Messer and Opechee Streets that took the life of one Middle School student and seriously injured another.
The mayor and City Council authorized the purchase and installation of two solar-powered school zone warning signs on Messer Street, on either side of Opechee Street.
Those at the meeting, which included representatives from the city, police, fire, the schools and First Student Transportation (the city school bus provider) also identified a section of Union Avenue from Gilford Avenue to the Messer Street intersection as the second area of great concern.
Running past the Laconia High School, this segment of Union Avenue sees a lot of foot traffic and is host to a number of businesses that can create confusion in traffic patterns.
Emond told the board that the city is in the process of adding and upgrading curbing to all city sidewalks as they are repaved. He said the curbing provides some barriers to stop cars that driving out of the lane of travel.
He said examples of this can be seen along Dewey Street.
The number one recommendation, said Emond, was to purchase high visibility crosswalk signs that are placed along the center line to alert drivers and pedestrians to crosswalks. An example of this kind of sign can be seen on Elm Street near the Laconia Country Club.
Emond said these signs can present problems during winter snow removal.
Other school areas identified as possible sites for the center line signs are North Main Street near where the students cross from Pleasant Street School, North Main Street near the Laconia Clinic and the downtown entrance to the WOW Trail, Union Avenue by Cantin Chevrolet and Elm Street at Elm Street School.
There are some areas in the city where pedestrian stop signals can be used in some instances. The Belknap Mill on Beacon Street East is an example.
Emond also presented "safety strategies" such as Walking School Bus where groups of students are accompanied by an adult.
School Board member Mike Persson suggested that maybe some of the PTOs could assist in a program that is effective primarily for younger students. He also spoke of rumble strips near crosswalks noting they do work to slow traffic but can be costly to install and present problems during the winter.
The Laconia Police said they would be willing to do a Back To School Walking Awareness campaign in the fall where officers would increase their presences at key times of day near school zones. He also said they would hand out their police card with pictures as a reward for the younger student who use the crosswalks.
Emond said some of the costs for signage could possibly be offset by some federal grant programs such as Safe Routes To Schools and administrators have some applications for consideration.