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Cloquet Middle School students cross Washington Avenue after school Tuesday under the watchful eye of adult crossing guard Phil Trout. Principal Tom Brenner stressed that all kids should try to cross the busy roadway when the crossing guards are on duty before and after school. Jana Peterson/Pine Journal

Bobbie Burns calls the traffic situation on Washington Avenue near the new Cloquet Middle School "an accident waiting to happen."

She was watching the first week of school when the crossing guard didn't show up near her home on 22nd Street, and when a parent missed the entrance to the middle school and decided to do a U-turn, but couldn't complete it and caused a traffic jam.

Impatient drivers pass on the right without looking for pedestrians, and cars speed well over the new 20 mph speed limit.

"Our biggest concern is our pedestrian traffic and getting people to slow down out there," CMS Principal Tom Brenner said. "A lot of people have been traveling that road for many many years but now there's a new school here. There's about 830-some kids who are in this building and a large group of kids who live in that neighborhood over there and have to cross."

The school has hired three adult crossing guards to work from 8:15-8:30 a.m. and from 3:30-3:45 p.m. so kids can safely cross the busy street, which is a major thoroughfare through Cloquet and Scanlon and also serves as an outlet for many of the high school students driving away from their building on the same campus.

Brenner said things have gotten better since school started and kids and their parents know the routine. The school sent notes home to parents too.

"Our big worry is some of the kids who are coming to school early and beating the crossing guard there, or coming late and in a hurry," he said. "Now they're crossing without adult supervision. We want parents to understand if kids are late or sick and coming in late, they should drive them here.

"After school seems good, because they all get out at 3:30 and they're all leaving together," he added. "Morning is more of an issue because kids come at different times."

On Tuesday after school, drivers seemed to be paying attention and even stopping before they needed to, in some cases. Of course, it helped that a police car was sitting about a block east of the crosswalk with its flashing lights going.

"Today has been way better," said new school resource [police] officer Erik Blesener. "I'm happy with the fact that people aren't flying through here. Traffic has been moving way too fast and someone, a child, could get hit."

The speed limit on the county road has been lowered from 35 to 20 mph Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the three- or four-block stretch in front of the new school. Multiple yellow signs with red flags proclaim the new speed limit, so there's no excuse for not knowing. White crosswalks were painted across Washington (although not on 22nd, chided Burns), and pedestrian crossing signs sit on either side.

Blesener explained that if a person steps into a crosswalk, drivers are obliged to stop and allow them to cross — at any time of day or night — as long as the pedestrian gives them a reasonable time to stop.

Cloquet School Board member Jim Crowley got a couple calls last week, and figured he'd take a look. He watched traffic go by from the other side of the middle school driveway near the middle school sign.

"Some of the cars are traveling really fast, and I watched two of our buses go by too fast too," Crowley said. "[These kids] are our future, by God, don't hurt them."

Crowley said the squad car lights and having Blesener present at the intersection along with the crossing guard made a difference. He thought a 35 mph sign not far from a 20 mph sign ought to be taken down.

"I may get one of my old political signs and write the 20 mph speed limit on one side and 'thank you' on the other," Crowley said with a chuckle. "Whatever we can do to get people to slow down."

Blesener agreed.

"We're just hoping to increase awareness and vigilance of drivers so they're keeping an eye out and driving the speed limit," he said. "It's a student safety issue."

Brenner said he was meeting with city and county officials on Wednesday to discuss ways to make the roadways around the schools safer.

"We don't want to see anyone get hurt," Burns said. "We just want someone to do something about it."