FISH Creek parents fear it could take an injury or a fatality before authorities heed their pleas for a safe crossing in front of the local primary school.
The school is situated on the main road through Fish Creek, a major route for Melbourne holidaymakers heading to Wilsons Promontory. Safety has been an issue for many years, but it has reached a crisis point in recent months with several near misses. Now, in the countdown to a state election, the parents and teachers of Fish Creek and District Primary School are putting the pressure on state politicians to make a firm commitment to provide funding for the installation of a school crossing and the redevelopment of the bus interchange. To date, VicRoads has insisted pedestrian and traffic numbers do not meet the formula required for a crossing.
“We have invited our local member, Deputy Premier Peter Ryan, to the school to see the problem for himself,” said school principal Michelle Turner. “His office has advised that [Mr Ryan’s Nationals colleague, Member for Eastern Victoria Region] Danny O’Brien will pay us a visit shortly.”
Ms Turner invited local media to the school around pick-up time last Wednesday. We were able to view for ourselves what the school community is up against. ‘Chaos’ is not too strong a word to describe the situation outside the school gates when the bell rings at the end of a school day. Children head down the steep hill from the school to the road to cross or to board a bus. Parents, frequently clutching younger siblings, dodge traffic to cross the road from their parked cars, and then return across the road with even more children. Buses arrive outside the school to collect some students and disgorge others from the local secondary college. Most buses turn via the car park opposite the school, creating yet another hazard for unwary pedestrians. The height of the embankment means that pedestrians have to venture some distance from the kerb to get a clear view of road traffic before they cross. Sometimes they have to peer around a bus. Traffic through the area is fairly constant, but until a couple of police officers turn up to talk to parents not all the drivers slow down to the designated speed limit of 40 km/h.
The police officers remark that numerous penalty notices have been issued over the years to drivers exceeding the speed limit, presumably not noticing – or not caring about – the signs marking the school zone.
“Something needs to be done,” said Senior Constable Anthony Wilson. “We need a crossing or at the very least flashing lights.”
“I’m gobsmacked at the speed some drivers go through here,” said parent Amy Paul. She frequently shepherds several children at a time across the road. “The other day I had four pre-schoolers, all holding hands, as well as a baby on my hip. It was hard to stop them running down the hill. I just managed to stop them before they stepped out on the road in front of a speeding tanker.”
Amy said it would put her mind at ease if there was a school crossing. “A lot of people don’t seem to realise there’s a school here.”
Another parent, Chelsea, recalled the heart-stopping moment when her four-year-old nearly came a cropper. Chelsea was walking away from the school with her older child, when her pre-schooler rushed ahead and was about to launch himself onto the road in the path of an oncoming vehicle. “It was a dark coloured car and quite hard to see. My son only just stopped in time!”
School council president Marion Bowron said safety had been an issue in front of the school for as long as she could remember – and she has been on the council for eleven years. “It has been discussed ad infinitum over the years. The shire council put bitumen in and a fence up along the car park, but that’s about all that’s been done.”
Bus driver Geoff Berryman is very sympathetic to the parents’ views. “Traffic has increased over the years,” he said.
“Fridays before a long weekend – when lots of people leave Melbourne early and arrive in Fish Creek around school pick-up time – can be diabolical!” chipped in Marion.
The bus driver said that it was unnerving to sit in his bus and watch children and parents dodging the traffic in front of him to get across the road. “There’s a huge need for improvements to be made,” he said.
Parent Tim Farrell had a grim point to make: “Do we have to wait for an injury or a death before something is done?”