If Lamont Davis could give advice to children walking to school, he’d tell them to avoid one thing.
“Cars,” Davis said, sitting on his front porch on Bellows Avenue.
Especially on “that street,” he adds, pointing east toward Grant Street.
Davis, 11, leads two younger sisters across that street each day during the school year. One block south of his outstretched arm is the intersection where a motorist ran a red light and upended his older sister in December.
“It just hit me. And I hit the floor,” Armonie Davis, 15, said. She was treated at Akron Children’s Hospital for a severe headache after flipping over the vehicle and landing head-first in a crosswalk at Grant Street and Cole Avenue.
Now, as the city attempts to make the intersection safer for motorists, the question is whether it will be less safe for children.
The signal at that intersection — along with a signal now flashing a block west and two more on the street where she lives — could be among 100 traffic signals removed as Akron continues to study traffic volume and patterns.
Traffic-control lights are meant to safeguard drivers and pedestrians like Armonie Davis, who was walking home from the library where she accesses the Internet for her online schoolwork at Akron Digital Academy. The lights also safeguard her siblings and thousands of Akron children who walk to school in the early morning hours before the sun rises in the winter, or on a sunny afternoon when parents are still at work and can’t pick up their kids after school.
Walking is the only option for the Davis family.
Akron schools' vans and buses drive through the neighborhood picking up children who attend a school more than two miles away. But Armonie and her siblings, even when they attended the distant McEbright Elementary School, lived too close to catch a bus.
As of 2011, 10 percent of all Ohio school districts, like Akron, have cut busing for all high school and many kindergarten to eighth-grade students who live near a school. The cuts balance budgets as students are forced to walk.
And though Armonie’s siblings — ages 9, 10 and 11 — now attend Hope Academy a block past McEbright Elementary, they still live too close to catch one of those passing buses.
Along that walk, they encounter Joyce FitzGerald, a crossing guard who sips coffee and ushers children across the intersection where Armonie Davis was upended.
Those traffic signals are the only thing stopping some vehicles, said FitzGerald, whose shift ended hours before Davis’ accident.
FitzGerald, a crossing guard for five years, earns $16.40 for each of the two hours she spends daily at Grant Street and Cole Avenue. She’s been there since November, before the city launched its study to remove up to 100 traffic lights.
“Ever since they changed this light to a flashing light, some cars don’t stop at all,” she said after returning from the middle of the crosswalk where she had walked three elementary children across the street on their way to McEbright on a recent morning.
The neighborhood has collectively voiced concerns about that light being removed. City Council petitioned the city nearly two months ago to reinstate the green-yellow-red sequence, but it still flashes.
From Leggett to Firestone Park elementary schools, more than a dozen parochial and public schools lay a half-mile from Grant Street, where 25 mph speed limit signs crop up every couple hundred feet. With the rapid growth in privately run charter schools and vouchers that make private schools more accessible, the city now is packed with schools in churches and public buildings.
Crossing guards and signage warn drivers of walking students. Still, an occasional car speeding along Grant Street comes to a sudden halt at Cole Avenue, about two football fields from McEbright Elementary School. Even more roll through the flashing red lights. And some, as FitzGerald attests, don’t slow down.
Twice since she took her post there, FitzGerald said a speeding vehicle has entered the intersection barrelling north toward downtown Akron. Twice, she blew her whistle, held up a stop sign and stood between children and vehicles that she says ran the red light and stopped only feet in front of her.
“It’s not good,” FitzGerald said.
But FitzGerald is only there for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. She wasn’t around 45 minutes after the sun set on that intersection in December when Armonie Davis said a “red car” ran the red light.
“You do take it into consideration,” Andrew Davis, Akron traffic signal engineer, said of the 10 complaints he receives on average after posting in a neighborhood a sign that says “Traffic signal under study for removal.”
The signs posted at the Grant Street intersection where Armonie Davis was struck in December have been especially contested.
“That one’s a hard one. You’re not going to convince anyone that it’s going to be safer or more adequate when you’ve had that experience,” Andrew Davis said.
Pedestrian accidents are spread throughout the city. So are Akron public, private and charter schools as students cross traffic at most intersections on any school day.
The average city, Andrew Davis said, has one traffic light per 1,000 people. That’s a guideline that drives the study of Akron’s 400 traffic signals, about 30 of which have already been removed. With a traffic signal system designed for a city of 100,000 more people, 100 traffic lights in all are being considered for removal or changes.
Some of those lights under consideration for removal are only a block or two from an accident involving an Akron student.
In 2010, a Jeep Cherokee — traveling south on Grant Street from the intersection where a driver fled the scene after hitting Armonie Davis in December — made a left-hand turn onto Archwood Avenue. The driver of that Cherokee struck a 14-year-old girl in a crosswalk before class began that morning.
A block to the west of that crash, another traffic light is under consideration for removal.
To the north, at least two students traveling to North High School have been struck in the past three years where State Route 8 crosses Tallmadge Avenue.
A traffic signal warding pedestrians of vehicles turning onto the highway at that intersection is also being considered for removal.
Along Copley Road near Buchtel High School, at least four students have been struck by vehicles in the past three years. Buchtel had the highest number of students struck by vehicles next to the North cluster of schools.
Traffic signals at Homer and East avenues interrupt the flow of traffic out of the city as motorists travel along Copley Road toward Buchtel High School. Those traffic signals are also being considered for removal.
Andrew Davis said pedestrian accidents are taken into consideration as the city assesses traffic volumes. But Ohio law warrants traffic lights for only three other reasons: mainly for high volume traffic, but also for vehicle to vehicle crashes and school crossings.
It is unclear how many traffic signals at school crossings are under consideration for removal.
The goal of the study is to remove unnecessary traffic signals that cause rear-end collisions and might be ignored by drivers. Those signals need to be optimized or altered, Andrew Davis said.
Alternatives include shrinking Copley Road and Tallmadge Avenue to three lanes, with a middle turn-only lane. This creates less lanes of traffic for pedestrians to negotiate when crossing the street, Andrew Davis said. He also said a bike lane could buffer students, who walk along sidewalks, from cars.
Davis said the contested traffic signal along Grant Street will remain under review for removal.
“A flasher would not go away at Cole and Grant,” Davis said. “It’s premature to say what would happen at that intersection.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.