Maria R. Frias is a mother of a 7th grade student at Stevenson College and Career Preparatory. She has been a leader with UPEJ since 2018.

As a proud mother of two young boys, I’m always looking for what is best for my children. I have a son in high school and another who attends middle school at Stevenson College and Career Preparatory, one of eighteen schools in the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools’ network. We live on the border of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. A big concern for me as a parent has always been pedestrian safety. 

One day as my son was walking to his middle school, I followed him out to make sure he crossed the street safely. As he reached the center of the crosswalk, I saw a car speeding down Indiana Street — the main street on which the school is located — and my son had to run the rest of the crosswalk to make it across the street safely. It terrifies me to think that my son could have been hit by a speeding car while he was on his way to school. Although the intersection has traffic lights that instruct people to stop and go, drivers don’t seem to respect those rules or pedestrians’ right of way. Cars drive very fast on this street and many parents in the area who walk their children to school are afraid a car accident involving their children could happen. We need to find a solution to prevent dangerous car accidents. I want to ensure that our community is safe for all our children.

In order to create more awareness, I joined United Parents for Educational Justice (UPEJ), a parent organizing and advocacy group supported by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, to discuss issues that affect our schools and community. As a parent of a student at Stevenson, I shared my concerns about the high traffic volume on Indiana Street. Often times we see traffic jams and impatient drivers. This street also serves as a thoroughfare for commercial trucks due to the freeway exits nearby. Some solutions we’ve discussed as a group include additional traffic lights by the freeway exits to slow down traffic and adding school crossing signs so that drivers know students may be crossing nearby. Since I don’t own a car, I walk everywhere and although pedestrians have the right away, there is still a lack of respect for us. For my son and I, Indiana Street is the best route for him to go to school. I don’t want someone’s easy fix to impact his life and his education. It doesn’t matter how fast students walk across the crosswalk. Drivers get frustrated and want to speed ahead. There have been many incidents of cars tailgating each other and big-rigs blocking the crosswalk, which leaves kids with limited choice. Some students go behind or around the cars, but if drivers aren’t being safe or cautious I’m scared that something tragic will happen. 

Last year in October, with the support of Stevenson Principal Rocio Ortiz, UPEJ presented an official request to the LA Unified School District Office of Environmental Health and Safety to hire two crossing guards for Indiana Street. Then in December, we had a community forum in our school’s Parent Center to raise the issue of pedestrian safety with staff from the offices of LA City Council and school district authorities, such as Councilmember Jose Huizar’s office, the Department of Public Works, California Highway Patrol, and LA Unified. As a group, we advocated to get an electronic speed limit radar sign to notify drivers of their speed while passing through the school’s area. We also advocated for an extended crosswalk time, and our advocacy worked because the timing for pedestrians at the stoplights at two intersections was extended and the crossing time was effectively doubled. 

However, we continue the fight for a permanent, electronic speed limit radar sign, crossing guards, and other methods of monitoring and controlling speed. The impacts span beyond school crosswalks. Nationwide, pedestrian fatality rates in lower-income communities are more than twice that of higher-income communities. Our entire community is affected by this. I remember a time, around six in the morning, when a car exited the freeway so fast onto Indiana Street that it couldn’t brake in time and crashed into a truck that was parked next to the school. This was a huge cause for concern for parents. 

Through UPEJ, parents  will not stop fighting for safe routes to school. Our children deserve to be safe from traffic, violence, and stress on the way to and from school. Our next step is to encourage City Councilmember Jose Huizar and County Supervisor Hilda Solis to install a  speed limit radar sign. UPEJ members have started this year strong by choosing new tactics and strategies, and we will continue to recruit parents this 2019-20 school year. 

*United Parents for Educational Justice (UPEJ) is a parent organizing and advocacy group supported by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. This parent-led group focuses on policies that will improve schools, such as pedestrian safety and equitable school funding. UPEJ recruits parent leaders across Partnership schools to strategize for its advocacy campaigns.