HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — With five kids and a front yard that faces East Sligh Avenue, Natacha Charite has to stay alert almost constantly.
“I have to always be with them when they’re outside on the scooters so that they don’t get hurt,” Charite said.
Her house is directly across the street from Robles Elementary School. Charite said the area is a meeting point of students and traffic, and oftentimes, traffic exceeds the posted speed limit.
“They don’t do it as much during the school time, because the security is there and sometimes, we do have police down the street, so they try to slow down. But when it’s not — when the school is not letting the kids out or bringing the kids in, they do speed,” said Charite.
Just a mile down Sligh Avenue, there’s another busy school crossing at Kings High School. When combined with Robles Elementary, the two schools have earned a dangerous distinction from Hillsborough County.
“Hillsborough County looked at over 100 schools in our unincorporated county, and these two schools are amongst the top 10 schools in the county based on risk to students walking to school,” said Abigail Flores, the Safety and Mobility Engineer for Hillsborough County.
But change is coming. The county is planning improvements at both school crossings. Soon, the county might install high-visibility crosswalks, new sidewalks, streetlights, and better signs. It might also consider changing the speed limit in the posted school zones.
The improvements are part of the county’s School Routes Safety Improvement Program, which began in 2019. The county used existing data to rank 132 schools on county-owned and maintained roadways based on pedestrian risk, number of students, and socioeconomic factors. According to a presentation available online, Leto High, Pierce Middle and Alexander Elementary were the first schools to benefit from the program. Now, King High and Robles Elementary are the focus.
“We are putting improvements in the ground this year,” said Flores.
Back at her home across from Robles, Charite’s feedback is simple: the county must act before a student gets hurt.
“It would be devastating, because nobody wants to see children get hurt. I mean, nobody wants to see anybody get hurt,” she said.
According to the county’s School Routes Safety Improvement Program website, a number of other schools have also been prioritized for future improvement, including Gaither High, Claywell Elementary, Brandon High, and Limona Elementary.