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Fed up with traffic, Portland High School parents press city to address student safety

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Fed up with traffic, Portland High School parents press city to address student safety

PORTLAND — On weekday afternoons during the school year, hundreds of students pour onto Cumberland Avenue, where parents say their kids meet disdain from drivers speeding past Portland High School.

That's why parents are amping up pressure on city officials to address traffic conditions near the school's main entrance.

PHS Principal Michael Johnson said he has insisted that the city take measures to mark an appropriate portion of Cumberland Avenue as a school zone, but so far city officials have failed to act.

"I want yellow flashing lights and speed bumps, much like they have at other places throughout the city," Johnson said.

City officials have told the the high school that those options are not allowed on Cumberland Avenue, because it is a state road. But Johnson said he sees no difference between Cumberland Avenue and Stevens Avenue, a street with blinking yellow lights and speed bumps outside Deering High School and Lincoln Middle School.

The traffic issue at Portland High School has been around so long that students in an advanced placement statistics class analyzed the traffic patterns using a radar gun obtained from the school resource officer. 

Former students Erik Medina and Zachary Scrutchfield, Class of 2009, analyzed traffic patterns at two different times over the course of two days. The 2008 study indicates that if Cumberland Avenue in front of the high school were marked as a 15 mph school zone, about 95 percent of the vehicles would have been speeding.

Parent William Wilson has been going back and forth with city officials trying to find solutions to the traffic problems. So far, the city has only offered to increase police patrols when students are arriving and leaving.

"I have little confidence in the plan which has been executed to date to control traffic there at a location that is clearly in the top five hot spots of potential pedestrian injury in the entire city," Wilson said in an Oct. 29 e-mail to Public Services Director Michael Bobinski. 

"To be sure, we all share the same goal of pedestrian and vehicle/bus safety on Cumberland Avenue and I appreciate your key points," Bobinski said in a response. "The school flashers would need to be taken up separately, as both the city and school department have no funds for these devices." 

The frustration of parents and PHS staff increased when the city recently repaved Cumberland Avenue – they said it would have been an ideal time to install speed bumps. Instead, they said it took too long for the crews to repaint  crosswalks, and when they did they were instructed to put them in their original locations near intersections, rather than right in front of the school, as Johnson requested. 

Parent William Weber said he believes that, since it took a while for the city to paint the crosswalk, drivers are simply ignoring them and more should be done to alert drivers. 

"The city should deploy immediately some temporary measures like caution drums and a pedestrian sign in the middle of the street," Weber said. 

Parent Alison Andreasen said she experienced the traffic problems first-hand one afternoon when she was visiting the school. Since there was no crosswalk at the time, vehicles wouldn't stop to let her cross.

"It dawned on me that this is a problem," she said. "We have cars going by there at a pretty good clip. What's going to happen is someone is going to get hit." 

Andreasen, who is the spokeswoman for PHS Parent Connections, a network of about 500 parents, said if expense is preventing the safety upgrades from moving forward, the group is willing to raise funds for traffic mitigation. She and other are so frustrated by the lack of progress that they are considering taking matters in their own hands. 

"We're a group that likes to get things done, so tell us what we need to do and we will do it," Andreasen said. "I don't want to do anything that would embarrass (Johnson), but some of us have considered making our own signs to put up down there."

Meanwhile, Johnson said he has received assurances from several city councilors that they will look into possible solutions, like moving the crosswalk. Regardless, he said there needs to be a solution implemented to keep students safe. 

"I don't care what (the solution) is, just do it," he said. "My No. 1 responsibility is the safety of students and that extends beyond the limits of the building." 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net