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Holladay Journal

Auto pedestrian accidents at Olympus high raise concerns about jaywalking culture

Jan 27, 2022 11:07AM ● By Zak Sonntag

Olympus high school parking lot stands packed on a weekday (Zak Sonntag/City Journals)

By Zak Sonntag | [email protected]

Auto-pedestrian accidents near Olympus High School this autumn have prompted city leaders and school administrators to consider new measures to improve safety around the high school, whose 5A student body produce high levels of foot traffic on some of the city’s busiest thoroughfares.

One of the accidents involved students who were hit by a motor vehicle while crossing the street at 3900 S. and 2300 East when returning to school from an off-campus break. The students sustained no major injuries.

Two weeks later, another auto pedestrian accident occurred less than a block south on 2300 East when students darted into the road without the use of a crosswalk, causing the driver of a vehicle to swerve and collide with the driver of another car. No injuries were reported from the event. 

The accidents have put pressure on leaders to allay community worry and improve safety for the 1,585 students who attend the school along with community members who traffic its surrounding roads.

Holladay Precinct Chief Justin Hoyal will meet with school principal Jennifer Christensen and city council delegate Sabrina Petersen this month to discuss potential changes to parking policy and the possibility of additional infrastructure to improve safety. The discussions will be guided by the results of a November monitoring effort by UPD officers, who observed pedestrian activity around the high school at peak hours on various dates. 

Officers identified several risk factors and targets for improvement, Chief Hoyal explained to the Holladay Journal. Hoyal believes safety may be improved by infrastructure enhancements, including additional lighting to increase visibility; the installation of a pedestrian safety island on 2300 East; and new crosswalk paint to augment light reflectivity. 

Albeit the most significant factor of auto-pedestrian risk cannot be addressed by new infrastructure, according to Hoyal, who witnessed numerous students jaywalking between the school and a church used for parking on the west side of 2300 E. 

“The biggest concern we saw was kids crossing from the church parking lot, running right out into traffic.”

The practice is so engrained that even police officer admonitions did little to influence the students. 

“There were times when our traffic officers asked students to use the crosswalk, but they kept on trucking across the street and didn’t listen to them,” Hoyal said. 

Students are occasionally slapped with jaywalking tickets, but Hoyal’s team is focusing on “positive reinforcement” measures, like handing out pens and pencils to students using the crosswalk, which they did on different days in November. Nonetheless, the practice continues, according to those familiar with the issue, suggesting pens and pencils may not suffice to rewrite the long-standing habit. 

Olympus High principal Jennifer Christensen plans to tackle the issue with education.

“I think the biggest part of this is education. We need to reinforce crosswalks in a positive way. For some students maybe it feels like [using the crosswalk] is a long way away and a big hassle when your late from class. But it really is not,” said Christensen. “The thing that’s hard with jaywalking is that there is not a school policy consequence,” leaving the only deterrent force to the school officer who has the authority to issue citations, she explained. 

Besides asking faculty to regularly remind students to use the crosswalks, Christensen’s administration has not yet come up with a concerted strategy for overturning the student body’s jaywalking habits. 

If push comes to shove, however, both Christensen and Hoyal say that the additional church parking space will have to be revoked. 

“That parking could go away if they don’t start using the crosswalk,” Hoyal said.

Eliminating the church parking lot, which is utilized often by sophomores who are not allowed to purchase parking permits on campus, would create additional issues as cars may stretch further into the adjacent neighborhoods, lining community streets and adding greater distances for students to travel from car to class.

“It’s especially tough at a school like Olympus where almost every student has their own car,” explained assistant principal Ryan Shaw, whose been with the school for six years.

Chief Hoyal reiterated that whatever leaders decide to do, the reason is safety.

“We don’t want to punish anybody or make things harder for students. But we’re worried that someone might get hurt, or even killed,” Hoyal said.