South Burlington, VT– In the state’s second-largest city, there’s five schools, but only two school zones. Some progress has been marked in the long road to establish school zones at all South Burlington schools amid traffic safety concerns.
South Burlington Superintendent Violet Nichols notes a string of traffic concerns, complaints of cars traveling at high speeds, and near-misses when it comes to students and staff crossing the street. These issues were brought to a joint meeting Thursday night that resulted in the forming of a new task force.
The superintendent says the city should be doing more to improve safety for students, but City Manager Jessie Baker – who also holds student safety as her top priority – says the process can only move so quick.
“Parents, educators and administrators are sharing a lot of concerns with some of the busier roads near our schools,” says Nichols.
Baker notes, “we are working to ensure the community feels safe and making sure the community feels safe in their homes and in their schools.”
Baker says this fiscal year, $100,000 has already been allocated for school zones and studies. But for the past year, Nichols says she’s been pushing for more safety measures.
The city granted two school zones at Rick Marcotte Central School and Gertrude Chamberlin School, both elementary schools. The city’s third elementary school, the Orchard School, previously underwent a traffic survey; a school zone implementation was not recommended. However, the city installed what it says are other safety measures, including pedestrian warning signs and trimming the vegetation hanging over sidewalks.
Baker notes the speed limit around all three elementary has remained 25 miles per hour.
But Nichols says one of the main “problem roads” is the 35-mile-per-hour Dorset Street, where the middle and high schools lie. Nichols says this road is one of the most heavily traveled in South Burlington, and poses numerous risks to students and staff.
Along with cars often traveling too fast, she says, the area isn’t well lit after dark, and notes pedestrian warning lights may be hard to spot during the day.
After the joint School Board and City Council meeting, the superintendent didn’t quite get the outcome she had hoped for.
“I did request the assurance that there would be ample school zone supports budgeted in the FY25 budget, but that was not confirmed at this time,” says Nichols.
The city says for the past several years, repaving Dorset St and installing new traffic lights has been a top project. The council approved $30,000 for a school zone study on the street in August, the work for which will be complete by winter 2024. Baker says any recommendation that come out of this will be included in the final construction stages of the project.
However, Nichols stresses the road is dangerous, and wishes for higher safety measures sooner.
The superintendent says she’d like to see traffic monitors add more visibility, especially on Dorset St. She proposed that the position be employed under the South Burlington Police Department for the skills required of the job.
“We don’t have trained traffic monitors, we have educators who volunteer as crossing guards,” says Nichols. “We have not had success in retaining traffic monitors, and the reason citing for several departures has been the sheer danger of this task which is really beyond a crossing guard,” she says.
But Baker believes the position should be funded by the school. The Council also funneled just over $10,000 to fund a crossing guard at RMCS to help students maneuver around the construction on Market Street.
The two parties are moving forward with a task force made up of officials from both sides, facilitated by Burlington’s Local Motion. The group will study and bring forward safety requests to the council. Nichols hopes this will result in full funding for school zones.
In the meantime, Baker says it’s the responsibility of the community to drive safer and watch for pedestrians.
“Public safety is a community effort, how folks operate on the roads, how we as neighbors take care of each other is hugely important,” says Baker. “The dollars are there, the work is underway, we are really trying to be responsive to the requests of the community and our school partners.”
Nichols holds that the implementation of school zones at every school is a common sense ask, as she says students’ safety is at risk every day.