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Student safety is paramount
The decision of the school district and the City of Mercer Island to use part of an existing playfield at Island Park Elementary School to expand and improve access to the school is correct. The change, discussed for years, is an overdue matter of safety for students, their parents, staff and the hundreds of drivers who use Island Crest Way, the busiest main street on the Island, each day.
The major issue is not simply more parking, as some suggest. The goal is to get students to school more safely by providing more access for buses and pickup/drop-off and to allow walkers to cross the street more safely. The design is to improve traffic flow, expanding lanes to route traffic off Island Crest Way, through the expanded parking lot and bus access areas.
The trade-off? The design eliminates approximately 14,000 square-feet, or about 40 percent, of an existing grass field.
As all commuters know, a small glitch disrupts traffic for blocks along Island Crest Way. The school is located at the busy confluence of access to the Parkwood neighborhood, access to East Mercer Way via S.E. 53rd Place and immediately after Island Crest Way southbound narrows to one lane.
Each morning and afternoon the school district has at least 10 adults -- paid staff and volunteers -- managing the traffic flow. They help load and unload cars, keeping the queues for the buses and cars orderly and help students and parents, sometimes with dogs and strollers, navigate the area. They do a risky job extremely well. Despite their efforts, cars back up in both directions, students weave among the cars and idling cars spew pollutants into the air.
An appeal has been filed regarding the city's determination of non-significance for the parking lot. The primary reason for the appeal is the argument that the loss of this open space -- half a playfield that is dirt as often as it is grass -- should be considered a significant environmental impact not mitigated by the project design.
We are generally as much in favor of preserving open space as anyone, but in this case, the safety of students, parents and commuters trumps saving half a field.