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Family happy to see plan to make routes safer to Billings schools

Lyman stop sign.PNG
Posted at 9:13 PM, May 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-11 23:13:05-04

BILLINGS — Life changed in an instant for Johnna Jablonksi and Joshua Toenyes when their son Ben was thrown 50 feet after he was hit by a speeding driver while riding his bike to school last fall.

It was at the intersection of Lyman Avenue and Brentwood Lane on the morning of Oct. 4. A stop sign was put up in response to the incident, but after news of another kid hit just blocks away, many feel more needs to be done and quickly.

"Ben’s doing really well, but because of how severe of a concussion that he had, it’s possible that we don’t know all of the impact of the injuries that he suffered. So, it could take some time for that to fully manifest itself," said Toenyes, Ben's stepfather on Thursday.

Their worries were manifested once again this week when another student was hit by a car just a few blocks away at Will James Middle School.

And they say enough is enough.

"What are we without children? What is our community? So, why aren’t we focusing on keeping them safe so they can feel confident? Parents don’t have to be stressed or be worried, is my kid going to make it to school safe today," said Jablonski.

Improvements could be coming.

Phase two of the city's safe routes to school plan is underway. It's aimed at improving safety around all of the city's schools. Phase one was focused on the city's 22 elementary schools.

Now the attention is on middle schools.

That study includes walk audits where parents and students can walk routes with consultants to point out areas that are unsafe. Will James was just audited Monday.

"Will James is a pain to drop off kids. People are always aching to get off because there’s no controlled light outside of the school and no controlled crosswalk until you walk to Rehberg," added Jablonski.

The city hopes to adopt an official plan this fall backed by a half million dollars in funding.

And that's welcome news for Ben's family, who knows why improvements are needed.

"After Ben’s accident, we put together a petition. We spoke to the City Council, went door to door, and the city agreed and installed stop signs along the safe route schools, along Lyman Ave. near Poly Drive Elementary," added Toenyes.

But even with safety additions, Ben’s family says they still aren’t taking their chances. They no longer let either Ben or their middle school daughter walk or bike to school.

"I can’t send Ben out on his bike to school anymore, even with the stop signs because I’m so scared that someone is going to blow right through that stop sign," Jablonski added.