It may not be the worst intersection in the world, but on school days between 7:40-8:20 a.m. and 3-3:20 p.m. the corner of D Street and Mountain View Road is easily the worst intersection in Moscow.
All other times it’s a picturesque corner with tennis courts on one side, farmland on the other. It’s quiet and calm, simple to navigate. Then the school bell rings and all heck breaks loose. Students from 5 to 14 years old converge on the intersection from every direction – Moscow Middle School to the west, McDonald Elementary to the east, and Moscow Charter School to the north – competing with the congestion of cars, parents and guardians hurrying to collect their loved ones then busily bustling on to their next scheduled activity.
Further complicating the issue is the intersection’s layout. A seemingly simple four-way stop, the intersection consists of eight lanes of traffic – four straight/right-turn lanes and four dedicated left-turn lanes. During peak traffic, all eight lanes are constantly in use.
It’s the stuff of nightmares – literally for Erin Bacon. As Moscow’s Safe Routes to School coordinator, Erin’s job is simple: eliminate barriers that keep kids from walking or biking to school. Top of her list for the last five years has been the powder keg that is D and Mountain View.
Erin quickly found an ally in Moscow School District Superintendent Greg Bailey, and in 2017 the district began staffing crossing guards before and after school. Initially that seemed to do the trick. But over time both foot traffic and vehicle traffic increased, as did erratic and reckless behavior from impatient motorists — behavior like pulling into the bike lane to pass cars on the right or driving on the wrong side of the road in order to cut in line and get to the left turn lane early.
Frustrated crossing guards, already enduring blistering heat and bone-chilling cold, began to fear for their own safety — a fear that was not unfounded. Just last week, a crossing guard in California was killed on the job. His death wasn’t caused by a drunk driver or a reckless teenager — he was struck and killed by a middle-aged woman who had just collected her grandson from school.
Here in Moscow, little can be done about the traffic; in fact, it’s all but guaranteed to increase with the anticipated agglomeration of new housing divisions and an established private school moving to its new location further north on Mountain View.
But the complexity of the intersection itself can be rectified — and that’s exactly what will happen starting Monday morning. Thanks to Erin’s tenacity and the support of the school district and the city, that intersection will — temporarily at least — be reduced to a simple four-way stop without the left turn lanes.
There are two almost certain outcomes from this change.
Outcome No. 1: Kids will be safer. Fewer cars at a time in the intersection exponentially reduces the risk of collisions — both auto versus auto and auto versus pedestrian. That also means crossing guards will be safer as they shepherd our town’s vulnerable little lambs from one side to the other.
Outcome No. 2: People, specifically motorists in a hurry, are going to hate it. With only four lanes of traffic and a one-at-a-time approach, the backlog of cars waiting their turn is going to stretch further back than ever before, and the perception (but not necessarily reality) will be that it takes longer to get through the intersection.
These frustrated drivers (which I readily admit I will be among) then have a choice. We can complain to the city about the perceived traffic delays or we can prioritize the safety of our kids over our personal convenience. That could mean heading to work 20 minutes earlier to beat the morning traffic. It could mean dropping off our kids a few blocks away, giving them vitally important daily activity and further reducing the vehicle traffic in the intersection. It could simply mean downloading a really great podcast or solving riddles while waiting our turn in line on D Street or Mountain View.
Riddles like this one: Why did the chicken cross the road? Because our minor sacrifices made it safe to do so.
Stellmon set sail for a three-hour tour on the Palouse in 2001. She is now happily marooned in Moscow with her spouse and five children.