Late last winter Fairfax City turned off the traffic light on Lee Highway at the entrance to Paul VI High School, forcing students walking to school, riding Metro buses or being dropped off north of the school by parents to cross at the light 384 feet down the road.
Many of the students, however, are choosing to cross illegally in front of the school and parents are upset. "It seemed strange for the city to move the light, especially since it's a school. It only takes one child to get hit. I feel the city is very negligent in not doing something," said Phyllis Buecheler, a two-year resident of Fairfax City with a son in the 10th grade at the school.
The city turned off the light at the school entrance when it constructed a new light at the intersection of Lee Highway, McLean Avenue and Warwick Avenue. The new light was necessary to ease traffic onto Lee Highway from the connecting streets.
Before the school moved to the site in 1983, local traffic cut through a side entrance to the school parking lot and entered Lee Highway at the light in front of the school.
"The lot was an informal bypass," said Edward Wyatt, city manager.
When the school moved in, the side entrance was closed and local traffic had to enter Lee Highway without a light. "You can't have cars careening through the parking lot. It's a school," Buecheler said.
With the bypass closed, the city had to redesign the intersection. "The minute they [the school authorities] closed the parking lot we had to do something so people could get through the intersection," Wyatt said. The new design included turning the light off in front of the school and constructing a new light at the intersection.
To compensate for the deactivated light, the city put up 25 mph school-zone flashers.
Two weeks ago city council reviewed the situation and decided to leave the light in place but inactive until a solution can be worked out. Activating the light would involve more than just turning it on, city officials said, because it was put up in 1963 and would have to be modernized and synchronized with the other lights on Lee Highway.
Allen Griffith, a member of city council and the council's Highway Traffic Safety Board, which will attempt to remedy the problem at a Sept. 18 meeting, said, "The issue is, how do we get kids safely across a very busy intersection during rush hour? If parents are dropping kids off on the wrong side of the street on their way to work, we have to work with those parents." The light is still being considered. "We [the city] are just waiting to see what comes out of all this," Griffith said.
"The traffic light does not mean a child can cross a street safely," said Mayor George Snyder. "There has to be some common sense by the young adults and by the parents also."
Paul VI High School is a private Catholic school with an enrollment of 965 students.