With the start of school for most Ashland students this week, parents and schools list safety on the way to school as a top concern.

Jennifer Marriam, a parent at Walker Elementary, had traffic safety on her mind when she did her back-to-school shopping this year.

Among her purchases was an attachment to turn her bicycle into a tandem, allowing her daughter, Angela, 6, to tag along behind without the risk of darting out in front of a car.

"I want her to get used to riding next to traffic," Marriam said. "I figured this was the safest way for keeping control over her when she rides."

With the start of school for most Ashland students this week, parents and schools list safety on the way to school as a top concern. The usual morning rush is even more crowded this year with the addition of Bellview Elementary students to the already-congested triangle between Ashland Middle School, Ashland High School and Walker Elementary.

"Unfortunately all the traffic comes in when school starts and everybody leaves at the same time at the end of the day," said Nick Barker, another parent at Walker.

Barker said he is always wary of driving downtown with so many pedestrians, and the school zones face many of the same problems.

"Drivers have enough responsibility looking out for other vehicles, and it compounds the problem when you have people walking out into the street without even looking," he said. "It's not wise in my view to mix vehicles with heavy pedestrian traffic. Accidents are going to happen. People are going to get hurt."

Safety Lessons

To lower the risks of traffic accidents, the middle school and elementary schools held "expectation stations" on the second day of classes to outline safety procedures for bus loading and crosswalk use, as well as appropriate behavior for school hallways, cafeterias and restrooms.

"It's just being proactive instead of being in a situation where we're saying 'Don't do that, don't do that,'" said Jody Bradley, a child development specialist at the middle school.

When crossing Walker Avenue, students were reminded that they must yield to pedestrians when they are riding bikes, scooters or skateboards, as well as wear their helmets at all times and dismount before the enter the campus, Bradley said.

In bus loading zones, students were shown how to board the bus correctly and where to stand while waiting for the bus.

"I know a lot of kids go 'Oh my gosh,' but a lot of kids need to know this is how you behave at school," she said. "It's not throwing a bunch of rules at them; it's 'We want you to be safe, and we want everybody to be safe.'"

Bus drivers also go over emergency evacuation drills at the beginning of the year, said Transportation Coordinator Carol Savage.

For parents worried about safety, the safest route is to send their children on the bus, she said.

"The school bus is the safest way to transport the child — safer than a private vehicle, safer than walking them to school," she said. "It's more cost effective in these times of high gas prices, and kids enjoy it for the most part. They get to see their friends first thing in the morning and to them, it's an extended social period."

And for those who choose to ride a bike, they need to remember to stop for a school bus just as if they were driving a car. Harry Wolfe, a bus driver with the district for 16 years, said he has had several close calls with bicyclists not stopping for kids exiting the bus.

"If I see one coming up, I'll keep the doors closed until they go by because I know they're not going to stop," he said. "Once or twice I have got out first and stopped the bicyclist."

All schools also have crossing guards, including the high school, which hired a guard last spring to usher students across Siskiyou Boulevard for classes being held in Lincoln Elementary during construction. Additional school zones were also created along Iowa and Garfield streets for Rivergate Church, where Bellview kindergarten and first-grade students will attend this year.

Parent Tips

Many parents whose children walk and bike to school take plenty of measures to ensure safety. When riding their new tandem bike, Jennifer Marriam makes sure her daughter is wearing a helmet, closed-toed shoes and jeans in case of a fall.

Martin Lee requires a helmet and lights for night biking with his son, Zephyr, 6 and extra caution now that school is in session.

"I think we're extra careful because there's so much going on, so many little kids around," he said. Traffic safety is "definitely something we should be aware of since more people are riding their bikes these days," he added.

One of the biggest battles may be convincing students that being safe is more important than being cool, said Margaret Graham, whose daughter Katy, 10, rode her bike on the first day back to school.

"Katy knew she was supposed to get off her bike to cross the street, but it's not cool to do it, so not may people do it," she said. "She didn't want to look dorky."

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.