Students crossing, horns honking

Sim Bowden put on his neon traffic jacket early Wednesday morning, picked up a handheld stop sign, and waited at the street corner–watching for parents and children crossing to the other side. 

With a genuine smile, the Durham resident warmly greeted the pedestrians and ushered them safely across the street to Estes Elementary School. This has been a part of his morning routine since 1999.

“They call me Mr. B,” he said.

Bowden said traffic on Estes Drive can get hectic, and drivers do not always act responsibly.

“It’s like a gun.  You can’t blame the crime on the gun,” he said.  “It’s not the traffic.  It’s the people.”

Bowden said he often sees drivers speeding through the school zone and ignoring the road signs.  He said it’s his job to keep pedestrians, especially elementary school students, safe in these situations.

“There’s no excuse” for the bad driving, he said.  “You can’t do that with kids around.”

Crystal Martinez-Ramos, another crossing guard for Estes Elementary, said the traffic in the area is a mess and that her job is necessary for student safety.

“The kids wouldn’t make it across the road,” she said.

Martinez-Ramos said she once faced a situation where a driver ran a stop sign and nearly hit her and a child in the street.

Todd LoFrese, assistant superintendent of support services in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said Estes Elementary and Phillips Middle, both on Estes Drive, often deal with traffic congestion, especially at arrival and dismissal times.

He said crossing guards like Bowden and Martinez-Ramos help with the situation, and students are taught safety skills at school.

Amy Fox, a Chapel Hill resident whose daughter attends kindergarten at Estes Elementary, said she thinks parents’ main concerns lie with the traffic in the area.

She said the crossing guards help to ensure her child’s safety.

“I don’t think they’re in danger,” she said.  “The crossing guards are wonderful.”

Chapel Hill resident Shontay Johnston also said she appreciates the crossing guards.  Johnston’s son is in kindergarten at Estes Elementary as well.

“The kids love (Martinez-Ramos),” she said. “She’s great.”

Johnston said she drops her son off early to avoid the traffic congestion at the school arrival time.

Jonathan Enns, principal of Phillips Middle School, said Estes Drive experiences crowded traffic because it is the only east-west corridor in the area between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Franklin Street.

He said the middle school has replaced its crossing guard with the school resource officer in the hope that drivers will pay more attention to a police officer.

“People are going to heed that person a little more,” he said.

The congestion is expected to worsen as the Town of Chapel Hill moves forward with development plans for Carolina North, a mixed-use campus located at the corner of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, said Enns.

He said school officials have discussed the impact on the schools on Estes Drive with a steering committee responsible for planning the development in the area.

“The main thing is keeping schools in mind,” he said.

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