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How safe are Lathrop High students walking to school?

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POSTED February 11, 2009 5:07 a.m.
LATHROP – If you’ve driven by Lathrop Road on both sides of Interstate 5 in the morning and in the afternoon just before and after school on weekdays, you’ve probably seen some students crossing Manthey Road and walking along Lathrop Road and under the freeway.

Dan Mac Neilage has seen upwards of 50 to 60 of them at one time or another. These are Lathrop High students living on the east side of the freeway who rely on foot power to go to school on the west side of town.

While it’s not unusual for students to walk to and from school, Mac Neilage is concerned about the apparent lack of safety measures to protect the student pedestrians, especially along the stretch of Lathrop Road between Manthey Road on the west side of the freeway and the Valero service station on the east side.

“There is no designated walkway on the west side of Lathrop Road, none whatsoever. It’s just dirt and the roadway. It’s the same with the other side, on the Chevron side. It’s the road and then dirt, so kids are walking on dirt,” Mac Neilage said.

Exacerbating this situation is the fact the kids on foot take these roads during peak commute hours in the morning and afternoon which are the same hours when people are going to and from work. Throw in a kid on foot or on a bike into this high-traffic mix that includes freeway off-ramp and on-ramp turns  and “that’s just a tragedy waiting to happen,” said Mac Neilage, a member of the city Planning Commission. The situation becomes even worse in the winter when it rains and they have to walk on muddy ground, or travel on foot in the dark for those who have extracurricular activities at school and have to go home later than usual, he said.

Sadly, for some of these teen-agers, “I don’t think (walking to and from school) is a choice for them,” he said.

“What happens, especially in Lathrop, is that we have families whose parents work in the Bay Area or are single-parent families. So you have the older kids helping younger ones to get ready for school, and that’s typical of any big family where you have the oldest taking care of the youngest,” Mac Neilage said.

To the city’s credit, especially Public Works Director Steve Salvatore, the problem of improving both vehicular and pedestrian access to Lathrop School has seen some progress, said Mac Neilage.

The weekend of Thanksgiving, “they put great deal of delineation, signaling and reflectors on Dos Reis Road,” he said, referring to the temporary back-door access road to the school  while the new Lathrop Road entrance to the new campus is being completed.

But other than that, he said, nothing has been done on Manthey Road or the new and existing Lathrop Road.

Mac Neilage, who is a commercial building construction superintendent by profession with many years’ experience in the field, said there are several things that can be done to improve pedestrian safety on the stretch of Lathrop Road from the Valero gas station to the Manthey Road to help avert tragedy from happening. And they don’t even have to cost an arm and a leg, even if they are just in the interim, he added. He has actually brought up all these things to the City Council, most recently at the council’s last meeting last week.

• Installation of a temporary walkways using an asphalt-type product on the side of the road.

• Putting up signs alerting motorists “that there are students walking during school hours.”

• Installation of crosswalks on either side of the freeway ramps.

• Reduce speed limits along this stretch of the road to school-zone speed limit.

“We (the city) have the power to do that. It may cost a bit of money but it’s money well spent,” Mac Neilage said.

The good news in all this is that “it looks like we’re going to open up (new) Lathrop Road soon,” he said, referring to the agreement hammered late last year between the city and the Manteca Unified School District. That agreement gave the district the green light to use some of “retention money” that they have been holding against Richland Planned Communities, the developer of the Central Lathrop area where the high school  is located, to stripe and put lights on Manthey and Lathrop roads, among other road improvements.
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