17th & Sanchez school crossing guard GONE! Safe Routes to School?

Crossing Guard at 16th and Church Streets. These brave wonderful people protect our children while they cross the street. Urban Life guards!!

There has always been a Crossing Guard at the corner of 17th Street and Sanchez Street for as long as I can remember going back decades. Tons of cars, lots of kids, three or four or five schools in the immediate area depending on how you count mandates an adult on that corner to encourage compliance with the stop signs and make sure the kids don’t get run over.

Now we have more than a hundred bikes per hour rolling through during the peak period in the morning. That’s on top of almost 1,000 cars hitting that intersection at the same time as the kids are all crossing to get to school. Throw in a few google buses and trucks to complete the picture of a seriously dangerous local intersection.

So why would SFMTA remove the Crossing Guard from this vital corner? Let’s start with some cartography, see what the maps say.

The big picture. The Adult School Crossing Guard Program.
Let’s zoom in on our area. We can see the Crossing Guard assigned on paper to the 17th Street & Sanchez Street  intersection.
Let’s look at the first map (SFMTA) again up real close. There’s our Crossing Guard on paper at 17th & Sanchez Streets.

So the maps say the corner is staffed. But it isn’t. I have gone out there many mornings to observe and photograph the unsafe traffic flow. It isn’t just a one morning oversight. That Crossing Guard is gone. And that corner has been wide open for a while now. At very least this most recent school session and perhaps more going back.

So  I decided to audit the other corners on the local map to see if they were being tended to. But first a little background. Crossing Guards work from 7:30 AM until 8:45 AM every school day in blinding sunlight or pouring rain. They make approximately $17 dollars per hour to risk their lives in traffic for two hours a day on average. The kids love them! (And so do their parents.)

So I grabbed my dog and my camera and headed out into the height of the morning peak commute looking for Crossing Guards. As noted above, 17th Street was a complete bust and could be the poster child for why we need Crossing Guards. That was the only disappointment.

It turned out that all the other corners on our local map were staffed by very presentable looking Crossing Guards. These folks were wide awake and out there at 7:30 AM on Monday morning stretched out along 16th Street like a string of pearls. We snapped a bunch of pictures just to admire the work Crossing Guards do.

16th Street and Sanchez. Crossing Guard escorts a woman and her small child across Sanchez Street at 8 AM.
16th & Church. One Super Crossing Guard protects crowds of children and adults crossing this six lane street in front of Everett Middle School.
16th & Dolores. Crossing Guard’s also protect adult pedestrians as seen here.
16th & Dolores. Second Crossing guard at this corner was really professional and enthusiastic. Very inspiring.

Now I want to go into a bit of detail about who these people are, what is their training and what are they doing out there. These are skilled personnel who must possess certain specific abilities and knowledge and they are screened very carefully. I looked at the job posting for these positions to glean a bit more insight into what it takes to be a Crossing Guard in San Francisco.

Position Description
Under general supervision of the SFMTA School Crossing Guard Program staff, the School Crossing Guard assists elementary and middle school students, children, youth and other pedestrians in crossing various streets and boulevards before school and after school.

Examples of Important and Essential Duties
• Guides students and other pedestrians at intersections and holds them from crossing until it is determined to be safe.
• Holds traffic at designated intersections either by mechanical or hand signal in order to permit students, children, youth and other pedestrians to cross the street safely.
• When appropriate, escorts students through intersections; may instruct students, children, youth, parents, teachers, faculty, bicyclists, motorists and staff in the elements of safety.
• Observes and reports traffic issues and unusual incidents relating to pedestrian safety and student welfare to the authorities for appropriate action.
• Reports to school principal and/or School Crossing Guard staff, students disobeying instructions.
• Communicates with students, children, youth, pedestrians, teachers, bicyclists, motorists and the general public.
• Remains alert of the surroundings and vehicles.
• Takes quick action to physically avoid traffic hazards for both crossing pedestrians and themselves.
• Performs other duties as assigned.

Nature of Work
Requires being in good physical condition including sight, hearing, and the ability to maneuver nimbly; continuous and unassisted standing and walking for extended periods of time, throughout shift, in all weather conditions; stepping up and down curbs; lifting and carrying handheld stop sign with wind pressure; wearing specialized uniform and weather gear; communicating in a clear manner; being timely, dependable and professional in carrying out assignments; continuous face-to-face contact and communication with students, children, youth, parents, faculty, bicyclists, motorists, staff, other pedestrians and the general public.

Minimum Qualifications

Any combination of training and experience that could likely provide the required knowledge and abilities indicated below may be qualifying:

Knowledge of: traffic laws especially those relating to pedestrian right-of-way and speed limits in various districts especially in a school-crossing area; and elements of traffic safety applying to motorists and pedestrians.

Ability to: establish and maintain respect and compliance of students.

Desirable Qualifications
• Resident in the vicinity of the school for which there is a vacancy.
• Work experience that demonstrates dependability and safety.
• Experience working with students, children, youth, the general public or in customer service.
• Ability to work independently.
• Ability to communicate effectively.
• Keen observation skills.

To read more about the Crossing Guard program in San Francisco you can go to the SFMTA website. Good info. They are also taking applications if you think you have what it takes.

To read more about the Safe Routes To School Program click here.

And lastly I thought this article about one of the Parking Control Officers at SFMTA who doubles as a traffic guru for local schools was inspirational. We need this guy on 17th Street.

Final thought: One of the jobs of the Crossing Guards is to observe local traffic conditions and report back to the authorities. If SFMTA assigned Crossing Guards to 17th St. & Church St. as well as returning our lost Crossing Guard to 17th & Sanchez Street I’d wager it would go a long way toward restoring peace and harmony to the traffic flow on 17th Street which is a textbook disaster right now. It might even save some lives.

Update: December 16, 2016: It turns out that Everett Middle School has officially requested Crossing Guard Services for the corner of 17th Street and Church Street. They are hopeful that the request will be processed and in effect by January for the start of the next school term.

Update: May 29, 2017: SFMTA has not yet been able to provide crossing guard services to the Corner of Church & 17th Street despite the request long ago from Everett Middle School. Neighbors are asking Supervisor Sheehy to look into the delay with an eye toward expediting this important assignment in time for the Fall Semester.

Update: October 21, 2017: Still no crossing guard. Supervisor Sheehy has asked SFMTA to expedite this as of two months ago. His aide told me that “we are number 12 on the list.” Apparently SFMTA has problems running the program. They are failing to retain existing guards and failing to hire enough replacements to maintain and expand the program.

I suggested to Sup. Sheehy that perhaps an independent organization from the private sector should be sought out to take over the program as it seems a bit absurd for SFMTA to be attempting to micromanage such an endeavor at the same time as they work with huge engineering companies to build multi billion dollar infrastructure projects like the Central Subway and the Bus Terminal.

In the meantime we still pray for a crossing guard on this important corner but quite frankly it doesn’t look like we are going to get results any time soon. We’ll see how things are looking this coming January. A very sad situation for the schoolchildren crossing streets that are running over their capacity limits here in District 8.

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