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Strawberry Point parents demand safer school routes

Updated: May 30

A crossing guard helps families cross Ricardo Lane at East Strawberry Drive on their way to Strawberry Point Elementary School on May 9. The street has no sidewalk on one side, a narrow and frequently unusable one on the other, with no stop signs on East Strawberry Drive and no reduced speed limits when kids are present. (Ted McDonnell / For The Ark)

Parents and residents near Strawberry Point Elementary School are demanding Marin officials solidify plans to address pedestrian safety concerns this summer so work can begin before the August start of next school year.

 

In a petition signed by 133 people earlier this month, they say the county has broken promises and failed to move quickly enough to keep their kids safe after two years of complaints, a walk audit by Safe Routes for Schools, a design proposal by consultants, several meetings and a battle to keep a key crossing guard.



County officials, however, point to the slow wheels of bureaucracy. They say they’re prepared to roll out short-term fixes — including a temporary sidewalk and stop signs at nearby Ricardo Lane — while they work on long-term solutions, but that it takes time to conduct and evaluate studies, then prioritize, design and vet improvements with the community before approving projects and finding funding.

 

Strawberry Point Elementary parent Christian Michael, who has a 7-year-old in first grade, sent a petition May 2 to Southern Marin Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters, whose District 3 includes Strawberry and unincorporated Tiburon neighborhoods served by the school. In it, he and other parents and residents called on the Board of Supervisors to schedule a hearing and vote on a concrete plan and for work to begin this summer.

 

He said the petition was necessary to escalate the progress “because people overwhelmingly felt that zero had been done.”

 

“We don’t feel particularly safe walking to school,” he said.

 

Michael was then among 50 or so people to attend a May 17 meeting of the Parent Teacher Association — scheduled before the petition was sent — with Moulton-Peters and county Principal Civil Engineer Farid Javandel, who laid out several plans they hope to get approved by supervisors in July and completed by August, alongside other long-term design options.

 

Sidewalks and speeders

 

The school sits on East Strawberry Drive, about three blocks south of the intersection with Tiburon Boulevard. There are no bike lanes or stop signs on the stretch of road, where downhill travel from all directions lets drivers pick up speed in an area that doesn’t make use of legally allowed 15 mph school zones, down from 25, when kids are present. Some portions of East Strawberry Drive and surrounding streets used to walk to school have no sidewalks or unusable ones.

 

Among those is Ricardo Lane, which connects Richardson Drive to East Strawberry Drive just south and uphill opposite the school. It has a narrow roadway with only one sidewalk, on the south side, but cars typically park on it, forcing pedestrians to walk on the road.

 


To start, Javandel said, the county plans to build a temporary sidewalk using “no parking” signs and painted lines at a cost of about $20,000, though funding’s not yet in place. It will serve as a test run while the county seeks funding to create a permanent sidewalk, according to county public works spokesperson Julian Kaelon.

 

The county also wants to update the speed-limit signs within 500 feet of the school in up to five areas as part of a pilot program. They’d report back to the Board of Supervisors a year later with recommendations on whether to make the signs permanent and where.

 

The county would also add an all-way stop at the corner of Ricardo Lane and East Strawberry Drive. Traffic-data collection for the intersection ended May 15 and is still being processed and analyzed.

 

Right now, only drivers turning from Ricardo Lane must stop, but those on East Strawberry Drive — particularly those headed downhill toward the school — can continue through, drawing complaints for routine speeding.

 

At parents’ request, a Marin sheriff’s deputy now comes when they can to act as a deterrent and enforce the speed limit.

 

“I think probably the worst drivers are the parents,” a volunteer parent crossing guard said on a recent morning before school.

 

Frances Bray, a parent of two Strawberry Point students, called East Strawberry Drive “treacherous.”

 

“There have been so many near incidents,” she said.

 

Bray, who signed the petition, said she parks a few blocks from the school on Ricardo Road and walks from there.

 

“I think it’s disappointing that the superintendent hasn’t done anything,” she said.

 

Long-term solutions

 

Javandel told the parent group that the county is also working on some permanent solutions in the area as well, with a technical study already underway on a Ricardo Lane design plan created by Sausalito civil-engineering firm Parametrix. Kaelon said once the study is complete, residents will also have a chance to comment before the plans are final.

 

The Parametrix proposal would put a 6-foot-wide sidewalk on either the north or south side of the street, with parking on the opposite side.

 


If the new sidewalk goes on the north side, the existing sidewalk on the south side would be replaced with a parking lane and drainage. With no sidewalk on the south or on the East Strawberry Drive approach to Ricardo Lane, the county would remove the existing crosswalk there and replace it with one to the west, at the intersection with Richardson Drive.

 

If it goes on the south side, the current sidewalk would be expanded from 4 feet and a parking lane would be added on the north side.

 

Kaelon said the county prefers the new sidewalk be on the north side of the street — to avoid drainage issues, meet Americans with Disability Act standards and minimize the need for pedestrians to cross Ricardo Lane when they reach East Strawberry Drive — but it will gather public feedback through mailers.

 

“If there is significant interest at that time, a meeting may be planned,” he said.

 

Once ready, the county would apply for a Safe Pathways grant from the Transportation Authority of Marin for about $500,000 to help fund the construction, Kaelon said.

 

Other improvements would include flexible traffic bollards in the median of East Strawberry Drive just south of the Ricardo Lane intersection on the approach to the school.

 

Kaelon said Parametrix is also looking at other ways to connect existing sidewalks and crosswalks, which could include redesigning the five-way intersection to the west of Ricardo Lane, where Richardson Drive also crosses Ricardo Road.

 

He said drivers have poor visibility heading into the intersection and the county may repaint the roadway markings to make the interchange more clear.

 

Parents speak out

 

Michael attended the meeting and said no one opposed Javandel’s design plans, but they requested the county also look at improving the block of Ricardo Road between Reed Boulevard and Richardson Drive, where there are no sidewalks on either side and people walk in the street if cars are parked.

 

Kaelon said that following the meeting, Moulton-Peters and Javandel walked the block with parents and residents to examine their concerns, but any action would require more data and analysis to be addressed in future outreach and community meetings.

 


However, Michael said this block was already a key issue raised during a walk audit conducted at parents’ request in October 2022 by Marin Safe Routes to School, a Transportation Authority of Marin program that helps create infrastructure solutions around county schools.

 

He said public works staff have mentioned restricting parking and creating a dedicated walking and biking lane with delineators, but nothing has been put in writing.

 

The plans presented to the Parent Teacher Association can be traced to that 2022 walk audit of all the routes parents and students take to get to and from school, taking note of areas of concern for a report.

 

The results were given to the Transportation Authority’s design contractor, Parisi Transportation Consulting of Sausalito, which developed an infrastructure-improvement plan delivered to the county supervisors in February 2023 — more than a year ago. Public works staff reviewed it at the end of the year.

 

But in the meantime, the Mill Valley School District sent a letter to the supervisors and Transportation Authority in September 2023 that sought improved safety measures at Strawberry Point.

 

One of the concerns was about the county’s then-recent defunding of the crossing-guard position at Ricardo Lane and East Strawberry Drive, which riled parents as they were seeking safety improvements, not reductions. After a community meeting about the issues in October, the district ended up funding the guard itself, reimbursing the Transportation Authority with other funding partners.

 

“I am positive that we had the walk audit in October of 2022, and I don’t see any changes besides them trying to take the crossing guard away,” Andrea Whitmore said in a recent interview. A signer of the parent petition, she has three kids at Strawberry Point school and says she’s been frustrated by the county’s slow pace. “We did a lot to get the crossing guard back.”

 


But that October 2023 meeting — attended by Moulton-Peters, Javandel, the school principal, school-board members, district superintendent and about 50 parents — came with other expectations.

 

“In advance of this meeting, organizers clearly stated that they were expecting an update on what the county has done with the proposals that were made in February,” said Michael’s letter accompanying the petition to Moulton-Peters.

 

She followed up with an email saying she’d provide proposed plans by the first quarter of this year, but that never happened. When she did for a community meeting on April 17, no formal plans were made.

 

Aide Jen Imbimbo told The Ark she wished they could have delivered on the promise.

 

While the parents view the routes as dangerous, two other observers had different opinions on a recent morning before school.

 

Sheriff’s Deputy Ariel Correa told The Ark she doesn’t see the traffic issues that parents complain about. Ricardo Lane-East Strawberry Drive crossing guard Bronislava Kobiskaya also said she doesn’t think the pedestrian routes are dangerous, seeing just seven or eight kids at her intersection per day.

 

Just one takes a dangerous route, she said, ignoring her crosswalk and instead running from her corner across East Strawberry Drive, where it’s unmarked.

 

Reach Naomi Friedland at 415-944-4627.



 

 

 

 

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