THERE isn’t a school day that goes by where Ranfurly Primary principal, Dennis Mitchell doesn’t worry that at school pick-up and drop-off times a tragedy may occur.
Such is his concerns about the traffic management situation that occurs outside, his school at 3.15pm each day, where for about 20 minutes that section of Ontario Avenue is turned a dangerous, sometimes chaotic scene.
An increasingly frustrated and worried, Mr Mitchell, has enlisted the support of Mildura police and he and the school’s council have written to the Mildura Rural City Council, who he says has the responsibility for the road outside the school, to address the situation, so far to avail.
“I am concerned that we are close to a fatality. That’s the reality,” Mr Mitchell said.
“The dangerous behaviour, not just of drivers, but pedestrians as well, is actually quite mind-blowing at times.
“I feel really powerless to impact on the situation. We have done an internal publicity campaign in an attempt to engage and educated the school community on this subject. I have stood out the front of the school at pick-up times with high-viz on and spoken to parents and students, but we are just not getting a behavioural change.
“Added to that now, the significant growth of the community behind the school, means that the main thoroughfare − Ontario Avenue − has traffic which has increased exponentially.
“Not to mention traffic associated with the hospital, not mention ambulances and other heavy traffic that use this road.”
Mr Mitchell said that some parents also park in the bus zone which should be kept clear and on occasions, they double-park and when they back away from the kerb near misses occur frequently.
“I’ve got parents double-parking and leaving cars running while they wait for their child to come out − it’s just horrendous,” he said.
“President of the School Council, Nadia Sherriff and the council’s other members are also growing increasingly frustrated and concerned at the lack of engagement by Mildura Rural City Council in the resolution of dangerous traffic conditions within the school zone during school times, despite numerous attempts via the Road Safety Officer and through Roadsafe Mildura to engage with them.”
The Weekly joined Mr Mitchell last week after school and witnessed first-hand how things quickly develop into a situation verging on bedlam.
The school crossing is well managed, but the traffic volumes with trucks and buses, together with parent’s cars coming and going from the scene is quite chaotic and something definitely has to be done to address the situation.
“On top of that, despite the crossing being available, families are crossing the road outside of the crossing, often with younger siblings and babies in tow,” the school’s council said.
“Not only are they trying to find a gap in traffic to pass, but they are also often walking straight into vehicles reversing from the parking on the opposite side of the road.
“There have been numerous incidences of young toddlers ‘breaking free’ from mum or dad and stepping out into traffic or running around the parking space.”
Mr Mitchell said another point that makes him immensely frustrated is that some years ago he engaged with Mildura Council when he was principal of Mildura Primary about a similar situation in San Mateo Avenue.
“It was a very dangerous situation for the school there at the time,” he said.
“The response from council was ‘we can’t do that – we can’t do this’ and so on, because San Mateo Avenue is such a busy road.
“However, in later years, a number of things they said that they couldn’t do, have now been put in place in San Mateo.
“They have median strips and speed humps to slow traffic down, which all mirrors the sort of risk managements that are needed here, but there has been no action.”
Mr Mitchell said the measures he would like to see implemented include a median strip built in front of the school.
“This would eliminate drivers turning into parking spaces next where children are getting in and out of cars.
“That’s traffic issue number one. Issue number two, is that we continually have cars zooming through this space when it’s a 40 kph zone, because it’s not well sign posted.
“We don’t have the flashing sign that turns on and off at school times like they have at most other schools in the district.
“Added to that, my greatest frustration in recent times, has been that with pick-up and drop-offs during the COVID pandemic, the school developed a ‘kiss n go’ environment to support our families, but this was met with frustrations from council, as it was causing other issues with road users.
“This enabled parents to drive in and without leaving their cars, the kids could jump in or out safely.
“Parents responded well to this, but council actively lobbied us to close that down, because it was creating other traffic issues for them.
“Namely, because there isn’t a clearway along Ontario back towards Fourteenth Street, cars waiting to enter the school, were banking-up and affecting other traffic.”
Mr Mitchell said the solution to that is to create a ‘clear-zone’ between 8am – 9am and 2pm and 4pm on a week day, which he said would resolve the issue.
“Trinity College which is just around the corner in Fifteenth Street have the exact situation in place that I am describing,” he said.
“They have a clearway for parents to turn into their school for the pick-up and drop-off of children and then drive out again.
“We are trying to manufacture the same scenario. We have the money to construct the access through-road in the school grounds, but without a key partner, namely council, we can’t achieve that.
“We could move the footpath out and onto the school’s land to accommodate the clearway and I am happy to find a way to achieving that solution.
“When it comes to speeding motorists, that’s a police issue and they are engaged and do monitor the situation, but of course they can’t be down here every day.”
Mr Mitchell said the other problem is the location of the school’s bus zone, which is somewhat removed from the school’s immediate frontage.
“Our bus zone isn’t directly in front of school, whereas at Trinity and St Paul’s Primary, they have their bus zone in front of the school and so you can’t actually park in front of the school, as you can at Ranfurly,” he said.
“If we moved the bus zone to be directly in front of our school, we would remove the risk factors we currently have out the front.
“We need a partnership to look at creating a solution, but we can’t even get to the partnership stage. I and collectively our school community, feel that we can’t do any more to reduce the risk without significant partnership from other local organisations, including Mildura Rural City Council, Victoria Police and of course the Department of Education.”