NEW PALESTINE — The flashing school zone signs clearly say, “20 mph.”
A stretch of U.S. 52 that passes through town near New Palestine High School is now officially a school zone. It comes after concerns repeatedly were raised about the dangers of students crossing the busy highway to and from school.
The Indiana Department of Transportation installed the school zone signs and lights late last week.
INDOT made the decision to designate the school zone after a high school student was struck and seriously injured while crossing the road on his bicycle on his way to school in the fall of 2019.
Shortly after the incident, INDOT moved a crosswalk to ease congestion and added new signs, but students did not heed the safety measures. Many students cross the road wherever they can, bobbing in and out of traffic that must slow or stop unexpectedly.
INDOT announced in September it would lower the speed limit to 2o mph from 30 mph; add flashing warning lights; and install school-zone signs.
Bob Ehle, New Palestine chief of police, said the police department will now enforce the new speed limits. They’ve been monitoring the stretch of road and giving drivers warnings.
“It’s a long stretch of road from County Road 500W to Bittner Road, about a half mile,” Ehle said of Main Street in New Palestine. “Right now, we’re just trying to get everyone aware of it — giving everyone some friendly warnings.”
Ehle noted it’s going to take some time for everyone to get used to the new school zone, but he said people are already slowing down.
“Those that were going 36 (mph) are probably going 26 (mph) and those who were going 30 (mph) are now going 20 (mph) so it’s working,” he said.
After coordinating with school administrators, INDOT officials determined the best times for the school zone lights to be flashing will be at 7-8:30 a.m. and 2-3:30 p.m.
Semi-truck drivers who frequently use U.S. 52 have taken to following the new speed limits well, Ehle said.
“They know what to look for,” he said.
Ehle likes the length of the school zone because it gives drivers time to slow down before they actually get in front of the high school, where most students cross.
Lisa Lantrip, superintendent for Southern Hancock Schools, said it’s taken a group effort to deal with the issue of student safety. She said school officials are grateful for a collaborative relationship with the town and INDOT.
“Along with changes we have made in how our community accesses the New Palestine High School campus, steps like this dedicated school zone are increasing student safety at and around NPHS,” she said. “Our goal is to make sure each student makes it to and from school safely each day.”
Wes Anderson, community relations director for the district, said they also have workers from the district’s transportation department dressed in reflective gear who are now patrolling the area to make sure buses get in and out safely to the high school’s parking lots and no vehicles enter the district’s property from U.S. 52 during those busy hours.
They’ve asked parents, students and staff to enter the campus from CR 500W or the new back entrance off of Bittner Road.
“All these little things add up and are making a difference in helping to keep kids safe,” town manager Jim Robinson said.
The parents of the teenage boy who was struck by a pickup truck as he rode his bicycle to school in November 2019 filed a lawsuit seeking damages from INDOT, Southern Hancock schools, the town of New Palestine and the driver.
Kian Heise, who was 14 at the time, suffered a brain injury, multiple fractures and other injuries in the incident, which occurred on the morning of Nov. 11, 2019, on U.S. 52 near a crosswalk in the middle of town. The family has since settled the case with all parties.