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July 31, 2014

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Concerned grandpa grabs a sign, directs traffic near school

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Leila Navidi

Fred Peters, the grandfather of a student, directs traffic at Paiute Peak Avenue and Gagnier Boulevard after classes at Wright Elementary School in southwest Las Vegas on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011.

Wright Elementary School Traffic

Fred Peters, the grandfather of a student, directs traffic at Paiute Peak Avenue and Gagnier Boulevard after classes at Wright Elementary School in southwest Las Vegas on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011. Launch slideshow »

At 3:26 p.m., the gates open and hundreds of little kids eagerly flee their classrooms and run toward the streets around William V. Wright Elementary School.

But these aren’t friendly neighborhood streets. They’re filled with impatient drivers who often disregard traffic laws, putting those kids in danger.

And most of those drivers are the children’s parents.

Fred Peters, whose granddaughter is a second-grader at the school, stands on a corner watching the mess. He hasn’t given up on his self-appointed mission to change this daily ritual — even though it sometimes feels impossible.

“This is absolutely insane,” he said as three rows of cars pile up outside the school’s back gate.

“That crosswalk right now is a danger zone,” Peters said, pointing to the edge of a T-intersection, where parents lead their children in every direction, ignoring the white lines painted on the road.

A nearby street is clearly marked as a no-parking zone, but more than 100 cars are lined up there anyway while the drivers retrieve their children.

At the intersection, a truck stuck behind a small car blares its horn for minutes before the driver of the car gets out and begins yelling. The driver of the truck gets out also, but two dads force him back into the vehicle before the argument comes to blows.

The cars that aren’t parked or stuck in the pileup are maneuvering around the narrow street any way they can, even if it requires an unsafe U-turn or a stop in the middle of a crosswalk or driveway. Parents and students walk through the mess of cars without regard for crosswalks or anything else.

“The people are just amazing. It’s just blatant disregard for courtesy,” Peters said. “And it’s not the kids, it’s the parents.”

On the other side of the school grounds, Principal Carol Erbach stands at a gate and says goodbye as students stream into the parking lot.

Her eyes stay on some of the children longer than others — those accompanied by a parent get a glance, while those running alone toward the cars are watched all the way down the sidewalk.

A few minutes later, a father struggles to manage his walking son while he pushes another child in a stroller across Bob Fisk Avenue — outside the crosswalk. An SUV stops for the family but the driver of the truck stuck behind blares his horn and yells at the other driver.

The traffic problems at Wright are not unique and other schools have similar issues, Peters and Erbach admit. But it’s so bad here even the Clark County School District employee charged with getting kids to walk or bike admits she would drive her kids if they went to Wright.

“You can‘t encourage those 1,000 kids who go to this school to walk, because it isn’t safe,” said Cheryl Wagner, the Safe Routes to School coordinator.

Wright is the district’s largest elementary school — at 1,125 students, it’s bigger than nine urban middle schools.

Just 90 of the students ride a bus, about 25 go to after-school programs and about 100 walk or ride a bike. The rest — more than 900 of them — come in a car, even though they all live within 2 miles of the school.

The streets around the 6-year-old school were poorly planned, with just one narrow road circling it and only two small connections to the larger arterial roads nearby. The main road to the school doesn’t even have sidewalks on one side.

The result is 20 minutes of gridlock every day.

Erbach used to go to the back of the school to direct traffic and help kids cross the street. Then she found out employees aren’t allowed to leave school grounds for liability reasons.

Despite having more than 1,100 sets of parents, Peters is the only person she’s been able to recruit for help with traffic control.

Parents will get there early to get a good parking spot, Erbach said. “They sit out there in the car, but they won’t come and help the kids cross the street for a few minutes. That’s frustrating.”

But not Fred Peters. He goes around the school and sets up cones and signs — although some of them have been run over and destroyed. Most days he then goes to the back of the school and directs traffic.

He asked Metro Police for training as a volunteer crossing guard, but the department will only come if there are at least 10 volunteers. Peters couldn’t get anyone else to join him.

The 58-year-old grew up near downtown Las Vegas. He served in the Marines for 14 years, some of them in Vietnam.

He’s tried getting help from his elected officials, Clark County, the School District, Metro Police, School District Police and everyone else he can think of, but he hasn’t gotten much of a response.

He admits that being “tenacious” and “not patient” might be why some of his repeated phone calls and emails go unanswered.

“Fred is persistent and if he feels like he has run into a block wall then he’ll find a different way to approach it,” Erbach said. “Some people might take offense to that … but he’s doing it for the right reasons.”

After the Marines, Peters worked in construction until he could retire and spend his time traveling.

“I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be here. I want to be retired,” he said while looking over the school parking lot. “We worked all our lives to be in this position, but I just can’t turn my back on this.”

His greatest fear isn’t just that a car will hit a child near the school — it’s that his granddaughter will witness the accident.

“I don’t want to wait until we see somebody get run over or killed before we do something,” he said. “I’ve lived in Vegas my whole life and it seems like that’s the only way to get attention for an intersection. I don’t want my grandbaby to have to see that.

“Why wait for bad thing to happen if we don’t have to?”

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  1. I attempted (two years ago) to get a story published about the dangerous traffic around Scherkenbach/Bilbray elementary schools. My contact at the paper eventually decided my story wasn't newsworthy (he himself had a child in elementary school that he sometimes drove to and from school). Something needs to be done. Too many parents drive their personal vehicles to these schools, causing a traffic nightmare that is only now getting attention for the danger it clearly is.

  2. It must be a localized policy on teacher staff manning the crosswalks. Some schools still have crosswalk duty for their staff.

  3. ToCDiva: Over the last few years, the CCSD has provided CHOICE in school selections, which accommodates families who desire to have their child at another school for various reasons. Just like MAGNET SCHOOLS are also a choice (albeit, students compete via a lottery to gain admittance).

    So, there really cannot be a "crack down on out of boundary attendees." Each attendee's case is reviewed on its own merits, and either granted or rejected permission to attend that particular school.

    What should be happening, is making the Clark County Planning Commissioners accountable and responsible for this problem, as THEY ultimately gave the nod for it to happen in the first place. Citizens need to be more involved with their government, as we are feeling the affects of having not done so!

  4. "The people are just amazing. It's just blatant disregard for courtesy," Peters said. "And it's not the kids, it's the parents."

    The problem has always been, and will always be, the parents. Until we address the reality that how a child is raised determines how they behave as an adult, American society is to be defined by the lowest common denominator of behavior.

  5. "He asked Metro Police for training as a volunteer crossing guard, but the department will only come if there are at least 10 volunteers."
    They should come if there's 1 (one). The donut shop can wait.

  6. While it's wonderful this volunteer stepped up, the incredibly dangerous traffic conditions around most CCSSD schools -- particularly elementary schools -- has one direct cause: Budget cuts.
    While we're proud to have the lowest casino and mining taxes in the country, we should be ashamed that our governor insists on cutting public education funds while his own privileged children attend private schools, where I'm sure there's plenty of fully-funded traffic control.

  7. Mr. Case,

    Budget cuts have nothing to do with how people drive around schools. I know you like to find someone to blame the lack of personal responsibility but you are way off base on this one.

  8. ADULTS are the root of the problem. They have the children, then are troubled about having to train these children correctly. Case in point: on any school day, parents with kids in tow, refuse to USE the painted crosswalks for which there are warning signage and some actually have those doing crosswalk duty there. Many of these "parents" cut across the street, model and demonstrate this dangerous behavior, and their children later cross it alone with the parent waiting INSIDE the vehicle or just standing on the opposite side of the street.

    There have been children hit by my school. The crossing situation hasn't changed over the years.

    The 76th Nevada State Legislature failed to put enforcement teeth in the PARENT/STUDENT/TEACHER INVOLVEMENT Accord that is produced and administrated at TAXPAYER expense yearly throughout Nevada. Our very own Nevada LAWMAKERS could care less---life is all about THEIR re-election/election to political office, not effectively serving their citizen constituents.
    SHAME SHAME SHAME

    It boils down to RESPONSIBLE PARENTING. Parents are a child's first teacher!!!