GULFPORT — Elementary school students no longer have to stand at the busy corner of Gulfport Boulevard and 49th Street S to wait for a bus that will take them to a school out of their residential zone.
The arterial bus stops, which are placed along major roadways, have always been controversial but became even more so after a 17-year-old Pinellas Park High School student was killed in December running for a bus on 66th Street.
After receiving calls from concerned parents, Gulfport Mayor Mike Yakes wrote to School Board chairwoman Janet Clark last month asking that the entire arterial bus system be reconsidered because of safety concerns.
"Placing young students at bus stops on major roadways is not the solution to the transportation dilemma. Surely the extra few seconds required to pull off onto a side street is worth the safety of our children," Yakes wrote.
While the schools transport the students, it is up to Gulfport to keep them safe at the stops. That's an expensive proposition, said police Chief Robert Vincent, if it means dispatching officers to monitor the stops.
Yakes had told the schools the bus stop system "was implemented with very little opportunity for local governments to consider options for allocating resources to help address the inherent safety concerns."
About a week after writing the letter, Yakes and City Manager Jim O'Reilly met with Jack Pisecco, route and safety auditor with Pinellas County schools, and talked about the safety of the students who stood at the busy Gulfport Boulevard intersection. Pisecco said there are about a dozen elementary students who catch an arterial bus there.
The schools agreed to move that stop to a nearby side street, 20th Avenue S, between 51st and 49th streets. The new stops got mixed reviews from parents waiting with their children on a recent morning.
Shannon Irvin, who set up the Facebook page "Parents/Students Against Arterial Busing in Pinellas County," said she was glad the elementary students got moved but she has the same concerns for the middle school students who are still being picked up at Gulfport Boulevard and 49th Street.
"The crossing guard is only there for 45 minutes," Irvin, the mother of a 10- and 11-year-old who go to Lakewood Elementary, said.
On her Facebook page, Irvin asks parents and students to upload videos showing dangerous situations involving arterial buses.
Loretta Cameron, a mother and grandmother of students waiting for the bus to Fairmount Park Elementary at the new stop, said she liked the convenience of the stop at 49th Street S and Gulfport Boulevard.
"I could watch them better over there," she said.
Pisecco said there are 20 arterial stops in Gulfport, nine in the area of Gulfport Boulevard and 49th Street.
The concern for students at the busy intersection surfaced so late in the school year because the parking lot of the closed Winn-Dixie supermarket, where students had waited, was no longer available to them.
"Before Winn-Dixie started getting its makeover, we had stops in there," Pisecco said.
But then Winn-Dixie, which is getting remodeled to open as Save-a-Lot, said students could no longer wait on the property.