Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board
November 3, 2003
Mayor Greg Nickels
City of Seattle
600 Fourth Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104
Dear Mayor Nickels,
The Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board (SPAB) opposes the reduction of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) Adult Crossing Guard Program in the 2004 budget.
The proposed 2004 budget reduces the crossing program by half, with the intent of eliminating the paid positions entirely in 2005. There are three basic points that have been raised by SPD and Mayor's Office in the media in favor of these adjustments:
- Volunteer parents and students can replace the paid guards
- Physical improvements installed during 2003 have offset the need for guards
- Seattle is the only city in the state that has guards paid out of the Police Department budget
Each of these points has flaws which need to be addressed before further reductions in the Adult Crossing Guard Program occur.
- Volunteer parents and students can replace the paid guards?
In the 2003 budget, crossing guard coverage for private schools was eliminated. As part of that action, the budget stated "SPD will assist schools in developing a volunteer-based program consisting of adults and students by providing training and other assistance." However, SPAB is concerned that we have heard no reports on the effectiveness of this program. This seems to be the key to determine whether we are doing the right thing for school children, or if we need to adjust the program and slow down the process of elimination of the crossing guards.
We're gambling with children's lives by realizing budget savings without the guarantee that we can put together a volunteer force in time to replace the existing guards. We cannot simply assume or hope that there will be sufficient numbers of adult or children volunteers that are willing to make the commitment to maintaining this program. Volunteers are much more likely to be absent, since there is no financial incentive for them to be on time. Replacing adult crossing guards, many with years of experience, with child crossing guards would severely reduce the effectiveness of the program and expose the child crossing guards to substantial risk. There seem to be numerous risks in the proposal to switch to volunteers, and SPAB is interested in seeing a plan that mitigates those risks before endorsing any proposal.
- Physical improvements installed during 2003 have offset the need for guards?
In 2003, the Seattle Department of Transportation's (SDOT) Pedestrian Program did improve some signage around schools. However, the 2002 SDOT audit of school zones was intended as a catalog of facilities, and by itself is no indication of the safety of children in those areas. SPAB has not seen the results of any complimentary observation of crosswalk usage and vehicle volumes around schools, which would indicate whether further streetscape changes were necessary. Further, there has been no analysis of whether the safety gains from these physical improvements are comparable to the safety reductions from the removal of crossing guards, or replacement with volunteers.
- Seattle is the only city in the state that has guards paid out of the Police Department budget?
We should be moving towards an explicit goal of who should own this program, determine how to get to the goal, and be open about our progress. Instead, we seem to be focused on the first step, removing the program from SPD, and hoping things work out in the end.
What is it about the other cities in Washington that we are hoping to emulate? Are they paid by other departments? Paid by the school district? Paid by non-profits? Are they all volunteers? Do they not have crossing guards? Do their children not walk to school? Do school or city employees serve as crossing guards?
In interviews, Chief Kerlikowske says that he supports eliminating this program because he must reduce his budget and he'd rather lose it than remove patrol officers dealing with crime. This false choice seems to indicate that crossing guard responsibilities may lie in the wrong department. For example, placing them in SDOT would create a clearer funding choice between physical improvements around schools and guards to provide safety. Furthermore, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that as much as 20% of morning rush hour traffic is caused by parents driving children to school, which exposes the transportation aspects of this issue. The school district could make similar choices about funding school security guards or bus drivers. Even if we switch to volunteers, it seems safer to move the responsibilities for this program to the Seattle School District or SDOT, for example, rather than risk losing funding in another SPD reprioritization.
In examining the proposed 2004 budget, two additional ideas presented themselves.
First, crossing guards currently are paid out of Traffic Enforcement. Another portion of this subfund goes to parking enforcement officers (PEO). Perhaps PEOs could be used to replace some of the paid crossing guard officers, by working for two hours each day at school crossings, and enforcing surrounding restricted parking in the interim?
Another idea arose from review of ordinance 121041, which provides an additional PEO for the University District for 2004. This PEO is paid for by the University of Washington as part of the mitigations for its neighborhood impacts. However, the city refunds at least part of the cost of the PEO based on the funds received from tickets. Perhaps a similar arrangement can be explored with the Seattle School District, where the district funds crossing guards and a roving group of officers performing crosswalk enforcement at busy intersections near schools. The tickets issued by these officers would be used to refund money to the district. Obviously the district would only be likely to agree to this if the crosswalk stings netted enough to cover costs, or if grants could be acquired to help funding.
Encouraging children to walk to school and ensuring that the get there safely, is an important responsibility of the city. The Adult Crossing Guard Program currently fulfills those responsibilities, and should be maintained at its current funding level until a proven viable alternative is found. We urge you and the Council to reinstate funding and work with the SPAB to explore options of improving the Adult Crossing Guard Program.
Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board
Chair, Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board
cc: City Council