An inexpensive way to save children’s lives

By On
• In Bellingham,

For decades I've tried to drive slowly past Happy Valley Elementary School on 24th Street on Bellingham's south side, where I live. The law is simple - 25 mph most hours, but a strict 20 when children are present. But - the question drivers have is always - are children present? Is it the beginning or end of the school day? When school is closed, or the kids are in classes, we can maintain the normal 25. And, outside school zones, we don't slow to 20 just because we see kids on a sidewalk some place. Outside our own neighborhoods, we do not know all the school zones - nor the times kids arrive and go home.

Along with watching in general for kids is the need to watch for school zone signs. They are white - not yellow for alert or danger. They look like a speed limit sign and a driver in the city- a safe driver - can tune them out somewhat. The Happy Valley school has never had a flashing light. I know it is there, but others from other parts of town can easily drive into the zone unaware of kids and the zone. Indeed, I've done it in other parts of town where the signs do not have the flashing yellow lights.

Yesterday, as I drove past the Happy Valey school, I noticed city Public Works guys installing the flashing yellow lights. Fantastic. In chatting with the guys, I asked if they were being put up at the many other schools around town that didn't have flashing lights. Well, the answer was, slowly and over time. And so this post.

Our past mayor made much of how the speed zone cameras were going to save the lives of grade school students. This, while many of our city grade school zones have no flashing yellow lights. I cannot think of a single expense that provides a bigger payback to our community than flashing yellow lights for all school zones. I have often suddenly found myself in a school zone - no flashing lights - with kids present and hitting the brakes to slow down. A lousy feeling comes over a driver when doing that. Embarrasement, concern about the safety of kids, and the sudden eye check for the police stakeout waiting to enhance the city revenues. This is not the way to treat safe drivers with respect. This is the time honored way to setup a speed trap for revenue - not safety.

Think of it. If only our previous mayors had realized that flashing yellow-light-enhanced school zone signs would serve the safety of the kids and alert drivers to slow down. What a concept. (Yes, that is sarcasm.) A win/win as they say. Ahh - but it will probably reduce the speeding fines and city revenues. I find it most poetic that with our new mayor, Kelli, in office that I suddenly see these yellow lights going up. I hope the budgets can be adjusted to get them up at all the remaining schools ASAP. And yes, yes, I can hear already the gentle chides from some readers that the previous mayor is no doubt responsible for the program that installed the flashing light yesterday. To which I say, sure, but he had 4 years to cover all the schools and chose not. Instead, he signed a pact with the devil to fleece safe drivers while doing nothing for safety.

An appeal to our city council and mayor: Consider funding the rapid installation of flashing yellow lights for all school zones. It may save a life and will make young lives safer and older lives more respected.

On a side note;

We have some cool articles coming up soon. The past few weeks have seen few postings here except from Wendy and Riley. I've had a bit of a personal slump and hope this little post will help me move on. We have a couple guest articles coming up - and I've a new programmer who will bring some long desired enhancements to this site. Thanks for checking and reading here.

About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Garin Wallace, aka Wally

Feb 07, 2012

Glad this is happening.  During one of the earlier meetings on red light cameras the Bellingham police chief said that they still had 2 schools without lights.  That was over a year ago and it was said in front of the council and mayor.


Bill Black

Feb 09, 2012

Longish story short, I once witnessed the amber school lights on Alabama saving a late-to-school kid’s life. I’ll never forget it.


Ryan M. Ferris

Mar 20, 2012

Flashing lights with solar panels add infrastructure without necessitating a monthly electrical fee.  The efforts of the city in putting in flashing cross walks throughout the city also deserves praise.  I have heard these cost about $100K and also require an electrical bill, however when you consider the loss of income a pedestrian accident means to both the driver and the pedestrian, I believe that such infrastructure is well worth it.  Attention to traffic safety and traffic calming may do more to maintain order and high quality of life than most people believe.  Vehicular and pedestrian death numbers are very high in our country, both as a percentage and as a nominal figures.

Serious accident rates from MVT (“motor vehicle trauma’) are likewise high in our country. ‘MVT’ is a leading cause of death for children ages 5 - 14. ‘Pedestrian injury’ vies with childhood cancer for the leading causes of death in small children (under age five). Children die as both passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians, but vehicular collision is a particular danger to younger children for a number of reasons. Research shows children think the world is ‘friendly’ - they don’t recognize speeding vehicles as dangerous because they are ‘bright’ and ‘colorful’. Children are smaller and less difficult to see from large vehicles in particular.  Young children also have less well developed vision,co-ordination, and impulse control than many adults and frequently have too be reminded to ‘hold Dad’s hand’ and stay ‘on the sidewalk’.

It says a lot about a community when it invests money in traffic calming and traffic safety. And it make people who would speed or drive recklessly stand out as selfish as opposed to normative behavior. Calming traffic also makes public transportation, bicycling, and walking more appealing.  If I were looking to attract retirees and families to city neighborhoods from Urban areas, I would publish a web page of every piece of traffic calming infrastructure deployed, complete with comments from the neighborhood families expressing their appreciation. After all, most of us can always head back to the urban jungle if that’s what we really want.