Ortega Elementary neighbors call for safer routes to school


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The east Austin community surrounding Ortega Elementary School says something’s got to change before another child ends up hurt or worse. This, as city leaders determine how to divvy up a $27.5 million chunk of the 2016 Mobility Bond for Safe Routes to School.

“This is a neighborhood that’s been neglected for far too long,” parent Reyes Rodriguez told KXAN, saying after talking the talk, city leaders need to walk the walk. “Here we are in 2018, it seems we’re still at the bottom of the list. Something needs to be done. And it doesn’t need to be done after study after study.”

Austin’s Safe Routes to School Program says it does plan to do a walk-through of every elementary and middle school and hold community meetings in each district to prioritize projects funded through the Mobility Bond.

“We want to make sure we do it right and get everyone’s concerns down,” program manager Amir Emamian said.

But people like Rodriguez have been voicing their concerns to council members and city officials for years.

“School patterns change, kids might not live on certain streets any so we’re just being aware of everything and seeing where the kids are coming from,” Emamian said. “We bring in a consultant, they go out to the schools, they meet with the principal, staff, you know, Campus Advisory Councils, see what their concerns are, then they actually go out and walk the neighborhood and identify other issues or situations.”

Ask anyone you meet around Ortega Elementary, and they’ll share their issues.

“There’s a place where people cross over the hill and suddenly there’s a stop sign right there,” Pete Rivera, who started the Springdale Neighborhood Association, said. “And a lot of cars don’t even have enough time to stop because they’re going so fast.”

Kyra Deprez has 11-year-old twins at the school.

“They’re perfectly capable of riding their bike or walking to school but I won’t let them because it’s not safe,” she said. “Between not having sidewalks and then the people who speed down Ledesma even during school times, I just can’t do it and feel that my children are going to be safe.”

“We want to see more signage and maybe some flashing lights and some more sidewalks,” Rivera added.

While crosswalks have been added and a 4-way stop, other reminders still remain. Like a cross, a memorial of a young girl who was hit and killed.

“It was a step in the right direction,” Rodriguez said of the improvements made last fall, “but they need to continue on.”

Just a few blocks from Ortega Elementary, Sarah Drive is another area of concern.

“We’ve lost a child on Ledesma, we’ve lost a motorist on Sarah, how many more lives does this community need to lose?” Rodriguez said.

Rivera told KXAN, “There’s been multiple crashes where people have just fallen into the creek and gone right through these bar rails.”

Council Member Ora Houston’s office says she’s asked for a safer railing through the 2015 Quarter Cent Funds. KXAN was told the project has been in “engineering status” for a while, so the timing of completion is unclear.

“It’s just an uphill battle over here,” Reyes said.

To learn where you can share concerns about your school, visit the Safe Routes to School website. You can also check out this WikiMap to include your input.

Safe Routes to School says the program covers the following ranges around a school:

  • Up to .5 miles for sidewalk/pedestrian improvements
  • Up to 2 miles for bike infrastructure improvements

There are several projects in the works right now as part of the Mobility Bond. Earlier this week, Austinites had the opportunity to tell city leaders what improvements they want to see along South Congress. Right now, city planners are doing a study to improve how people drive, bike, walk or use city transit in that area. A $500,000 portion of the bond is being used for the study and to come up with a plan. It should be finished by this fall.

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