Four people were taken to UF Health at Springhill on Wednesday afternoon after two vehicles collided in front of the Alachua Learning Academy (ALA) on State Road 235, a stretch of highway that parents and school staff say has been a problem for years.
According Florida Highway Patrol spokesperson Lt. Patrick Riordan, a 79-year-old driver of a pickup truck was headed east on SR 235 and turned in front of a station wagon that was headed west. A 29-year-old driver from Alachua was driving the station wagon with two young passengers in the back seat ages 6 and 7. All four people involved in the collision were wearing seatbelts, according to reports.
The driver of the pickup was cited by the FHP for failure to yield the right of way, the report states.
According to ALA Principal K.P. Rivera, that pickup driver is a grandfather who was turning into the school to pick up his grandchild after school.
This is the first major accident that has occurred in front of the school since Rivera has been in charge, but he said there have been many close calls because there is not an official school zone established and vehicles ignore the 45 mph signs and two flashing lights that indicate a school is there.
About 10 years ago parents lobbied to get the two flashing lights installed by Alachua County Public Works, which maintains the signs.
But it is the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) who needs to establish a school zone at the request of Alachua County.
On Wednesday, after learning about the accident, Alachua County Commissioner Mary Alford reached out to Rivera to find out how to help.
“That’s horrific,” Alford commented after reading about the accident and viewing a video of speeding traffic passing the school as parents pick up students. “Yes I will join the effort on this,” she added.
“Because it’s a state road, it’s a state issue,” Rivera said. He said he’s happy Alford “seemed receptive” to helping make the area safer.
The ALA is a public school and has a neighboring private school Bhaktivedanta Academy. The two schools have about 400 students attending with a majority of students being picked up by parents.
Currently there are two flashing lights, one on each side in each direction along SR 235 and one sign that announces “school entrance,” according to Rivera.
The speed limit of 55 mph is reduced to 45 mph, “but we have tons of trucks that don’t follow the speed limit,” Rivera said.
“A turning lane into the school would make parents feel safer,” Rivera said about the ideal solution to the safety issue. “The pick-up line is already full and cars try passing and that causes problems.
Rivera also said a speed limit of 20 mph during the morning arrival and afternoon let out would be ideal.
“Because it’s a state road, the best we could hope for is down to 35 mph,” Rivera said he has been told. “Even if we went to 35 mph, the parents would be that much more safer.”
This story was updated to add the 55 mph speed limit on SR 235.