Halls parents highlight safety issues after pedestrian crash involving student

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HALLS, Tenn. (WATE) – Parents in the Halls community want change after a 13-year-old was struck by a car while attempting to cross the street after dismissal.

Katie Smith, a parent of a Halls High student, posted on Facebook after the incident explaining that she called the district’s county commissioner for answers.

Smith wrote that Knox County Commissioner Charles Busler told her that “the parents need to craft an idea of a solution and that it is the state’s fault for there not being any crosswalks.”

Halls high and middle schools share the same property, parking lot and dismissal time.

The schools also use the same designated parent/student pick-up and drop-off route, which uses the school entrance on Emory Road.

This pick-up/drop-off route is posted on the Halls Middle School website home page.

Smith said morning traffic on Emory Road is bad, but afternoon traffic when parents pick students up is worse.

“You’ve got high school students trying to leave, you’ve got parents trying to pick up and drop off, you’ve got buses coming in,” Smith said.

She said that at the beginning of the school year, the driving lanes are well-maintained and staffed, but after a few months – it’s chaos.

Several parents and students use an alternate route on Ledgerwood Road–either waiting at Hardee’s or Weigel’s — but there isn’t a crosswalk or crossing guard.

The school property has two entrances: The main entrance on Emory Road, which has a crosswalk and officer controlling traffic; and a back entrance on Ledgerwood Road.

Spender Long, Halls High School principal, said that the back entrance is closed during the school day, but is opened before school starts and after dismissal.

“Why not have a crosswalk over (on Ledgerwood Road) so kids can walk safely? Why not have at least a police officer over (on Ledgerwood Road),” Smith asked.

Not only is there no crosswalk or crossing guard on Ledgerwood, but there aren’t sidewalks either.

Long said that in order for a crosswalk to be placed on Ledgerwood, there needs to be sidewalks on both sides of the road to connect it to first.

Adding sidewalks falls under the Knox County Public Works Department, since the road is maintained by the county.

Charles Busler, the 7th district commissioner, said that adding sidewalks would be very expensive, and maintaining them would be even more pricey.

“The expense for keeping up roads and things like that is coming from gasoline taxes, and you know, down the road, we’re going to lose a lot of our gasoline taxes because of electric cars. So what we got to do now is prepare for that future of how we’re going to take care of roads and make sure the infrastructure can hold the people that are in the community,” Busler said.

Principal Long also said that school staff can’t direct traffic on Ledgerwood, it must be an officer, which would cost the school more money.

Busler said that the county added four new school crossing signs at the beginning of the year, but that was all the county could do at the time.

Both middle and high school principals said they reached out to parents, or planned to on Wednesday, reminding them that students should not use Weigel’s or Hardee’s as a pickup or drop-off location, simply out of concern for student safety.

Smith said that the best option to fix the problem is getting rid of the ‘Parent Responsibility Zone‘ and allowing any student to ride the bus, no matter how close they live to school.

“We live within a mile and a half of the school, so my son can’t ride the bus. There are no sidewalks, so he can’t walk to school. If he did, he’d be walking on Emory Road, which would be even more dangerous than walking on Ledgerwood,” Smith.

Smith said parents trying to avoid school traffic wasn’t the only reason students cross Ledgerwood Road.

“It’s not just kids that are being dropped off and picked up that’s the issue. It’s also kids just trying to grab a bite to eat before band practice, or they have football practice or robotics,” Smith said.

Smith said that if they don’t change the parent responsibility zone, then a crosswalk and sidewalks need to be added or there needs to be a crossing guard.

She said she planned on attending the next Knox County Commission meeting next week to bring up the issue to elected officials.

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