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MURP students finalists for $50,000 grant

The two envision a future of safer school zones

CU Denver students work on road safety.
Photo courtesy of Jenny Godwin & Lily Lizarraga

In 2008, George Washington High School student Amelia Bates left campus to get a snack during her lunch break. While crossing the street in a school zone, she was struck by a speeding car and killed. She was 15 years old.

Since Bates’ death, safety measures to protect students walking to and from GWHS haven’t seen many changes. CU Denver Masters of Urban Regional Planning students Jenny Godwin and Lily Lizarraga are fighting to change that.

In the Fall 2018 semester, the two MURP students were paired up for a project on “Tactical Urbanism,” or low cost, temporary fixes to an area. With the help of their professor, the two applied for a grant competition sponsored by Zendrive to make their temporary changes into permanent ones.

Zendrive is a think tank company that evaluates the safety of drivers. Late last year, the company announced a grant partnering with Uber, Lyft, Lime, Bird, and more traffic conscious companies to make school zones safer. Together, the companies are funding a grant worth $50,000 to improve one of the country’s most dangerous school zones.

Zendrive narrowed applicants from across the country down to 23 finalists, Godwin and Lizarraga among them, representing the only team in the state of Colorado.

“There are report cards where they rate schools on aggressive driving behaviors, aggressive acceleration, phone use, obeying traffic laws, and that school got a D-,” Godwin explained. “It’s one of the worst in Denver.”

GWHS is located on the intersection of Monaco and Leetsdale, one of Denver’s busiest and most accident-prone intersections.

“It’s a state highway, which is part of the issue,” Godwin explained.

While observing the intersection, Godwin and Lizarraga observed cars driving nearly 15 mph over the posted 35 mph speed limit. Students wouldn’t utilize the crosswalk, and many drivers sped distractedly down the road.

Godwin and Lizarraga want to create a zone that makes any method of going to school safer for everyone. Whether students walk, ride their bike, or commute on the bus, GWHS students’ safety is at risk.

Having school-age children herself, Lizarraga’s goal of applying for the Zendrive grant is to make areas where her children will be safer.

“If kids aren’t safe there, then nobody is safe there,” Godwin explained.

Godwin and Lizarraga proposed constructing a raised crosswalk for students to use to cross Leetsdale.

A raised crosswalk gives a car a visual signal that they need to slow down, rather than white paint which people ignore a lot,” Godwin said.

The team also has the goal of creating protected turns to designate spaces for both pedestrians and vehicles.

“There’s actually a signal timing where the car has a green turn signal and it’s red for the pedestrian, rather than having them all compete for space,” Godwin said.

What began as a class project has turned into creating a conversation and spreading awareness about the dangerous school zone in Denver. While the grant was awarded to another team, Godwin and Lizarraga’s impact on the area has already been felt as they became finalists, shedding light on changes that need to be made to protect the area’s children.

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