SOUTH TAMPA - Every day, Erin Birchall bikes to and from Dale Mabry Elementary School with her 5-year-old son. They pedal from their home on Empedrado Street to Lois Avenue, where they stop and wait for Miss Annie, the crossing guard, to stop traffic so they can cross Henderson Boulevard. Birchall's other son, a sixth-grader at Coleman Middle School, also rides his bike to school and takes the same route. The traffic situation has "always been horrible" there, she said, but still she was surprised this week when her kids brought home letters informing parents that the crossing guard is being removed. Instead, the district will provide a bus for the children who normally cross at that location. The intersection has been deemed "dangerous for student crossings," said the letter, which came from Diane Miller, crossing guard coordinator for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
That five-way intersection is confusing for drivers to navigate sometimes, Miller said. Drivers come in at high speeds, and sometimes they run the light or make a quick turn. "It's just deemed way to high a volume of traffic and the confusion of the intersection is just dangerous," Miller said. So the sheriff's office worked with the city traffic safety coordinator and the school district's safety team to make the change. Because the sheriff's office is removing the crossing guard, the school district will establish bus routes for students who live within two miles of Dale Mabry Elementary and Coleman Middle School. If parents still want to walk their children to school they can, Miller said. But officials wanted to provide a safer option for parents who can't always walk with them. "I loved walking to school and I have a kid too, but some of these roads are just way to dangerous," Miller said. Some parents, like Birchall, feel the change was a little hasty. The intersection is busy, but the crossing guard has always put her at ease. She'll probably keep letting her children ride their bikes to school because it is faster than riding a bus. She said she would rather keep the crossing guard and see more signs and signals at the intersection. "I don't know how they came to this decision and why this is the solution," Birchall said. Kim LaBarbera, who lives on the same street as Birchall, agreed that there could have been another solution. She sometimes walks or rides bikes to Mabry Elementary with her twin 8-year-old boys. She goes with them now, but as they get older, they want to go by themselves, she said. Without a crossing guard, she'll probably start driving them. "It just kind of seems like a silly option for something that a lot of the parents at the school never thought was a problem," LaBarbera said. Ebehrman@Tampatrib.com (813)259-7691 Twitter: @LizBehrmanTBO