Student project brings improvements to Washington High School intersection in Cedar Rapids

Crosswalks and stop bars painted at busy four-way stop

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Alliyah Wilcox says her mother was driving through the intersection of Cottage Grove Avenue and Forest Drive SE near Washington High School last year when she expressed some frustration about how long it was taking to navigate through the four-way stop.

She said, ‘Geez, it’s taking a long time, it’s very, very backed up,’ said Wilcox, 14, now a sophomore at Washington High. “We wondered why there was no stop light at the intersection.”

Wilcox took the discussion to her ninth-grade language arts class, where teacher Carrie Tinkham had assigned a community service project. Wilcox and her project partners Sophie Hopkins, Joab Johnson, Josh Gilbert and Narcella Robinson, decided to focus their efforts on making some kind of improvements to that intersection.

They did some research and quickly learned that installing stop lights wasn’t cost effective. But, that didn’t stop them from pushing for change.

On Thursday morning, their hard work paid off as employees from the city’s Traffic Engineering Division painted crosswalks and stop bars on three of the four intersection crossings.

For Wilcox and Hopkins, who attended a brief ceremony before the painting began, the work is a step in the right direction.

“This brings awareness that this is a school zone and that kids are going to be crossing,” said Wilcox.

“Drivers are focused on driving through the four-way stop, so they don’t always look for kids,” added Hopkins, 15, also a sophomore at Washington High.

John Witt, traffic engineer program manager for the city of Cedar Rapids, expressed gratitude that a group of young people identified a problem, came to the city seeking solutions and, in the end, impacted a positive change.

“This was a case where we said, ‘Ya, there should be a crosswalk there,’ ” Witt said. “It was a neat experience working with (the students). The theme is they reached out to us and worked through the proper channels to get something accomplished.”

He said a discussion about future improvements to the intersection are likely to continue among city leaders.

“Something we’ll explore in the future is a mini roundabout,” Witt said.

Cedar Rapids City Council Member Susie Weinacht commended the students for their efforts.

“It has been a pleasure to work with you and it shows young voices have a place in this community,” Weinacht said.

Hopkins said it was satisfying to see the paint hit the pavement on Thursday morning.

“This was a lot of work,” she said of the project. “A lot of people thought this wasn’t going to happen because we’d have to work with the city.

“But we just pushed through and kept working.”

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