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Petition drafted for more safety measures near Poly Drive Elementary in Billings

8-year-old boy hit by car while riding bike to school
Poly Drive Elementary crosswalk
Posted at 2:57 PM, Oct 19, 2022

BILLINGS — Many of the 305 students at Poly Drive Elementary in Billings enter the school grounds through the controlled crosswalk at Poly Drive and Arvin Road. But not all.

On the southwest side of the campus, there are no crosswalks. There’s barely even a stop sign. And after 8-year-old student Ben Jablonski’s accident on Oct. 4, parents and staff are saying the city needs to put children’s safety first.

"Even with the signs and lights flashing, people don’t want to stop," said one of the school's crossing guards, who asked to be identified only as Mrs. Linda.

Linda works the morning and afternoon shift at Rimrock Lane and Arvin Road. She loves her "kids," as she calls them, and loves the job - most days.

"Last year, a gentleman got mad because I walked my child across the street, and I was in the middle coming back and he yelled at me to get the h-e-double hockey sticks out of the road," she said.

Mrs. Linda crossing guard
"Mrs. Linda" waves traffic through after shepherding kids through a crosswalk on the corner of Rimrock Lane and Arvin Road in Billings.

It’s a busy job because almost every Poly Drive student walks or rides a bike to school.

"One thing that’s unique about Poly Drive is we don’t have any buses," said Poly Drive Principal Melissa Soucy. "All of our kids come within walking distance, basically.

"Our crossing guards have come to me several times saying, 'I was almost hit.'"

And that’s with bright signs and flashing lights staring people in the face. They were added to the crosswalks in 2022.

Poly Drive crosswalk button
Warning lights were installed in 2022 for two controlled crosswalks near Poly Drive Elementary School, at the corner of Poly Drive and Arvin Road as well as Rimrock Lane and Arvin.

Southwest of campus on Lyman Avenue - a published safe walking route by the city - none of that exists to protect kids like Jablonski.

"Terrifying moment to realize it could have happened to one of my kids too," said Ethan Kanning, who is friends with Jablonski's parents.

Kanning and his three Poly Drive kids live on Nina Clare Road, bordering the western edge of the school. He says the street is a popular cut-across between busy thoroughfares Poly Drive and Colton Road.

"We moved here five years ago, and we thought it was pretty quiet," Kanning said. "Since we’ve lived here, the amount of traffic has been staggering."

Poly drive safe route
Lyman Avenue, where Ben Jablonski was hit by a car while riding his bike, is listed as a walking street on Poly Drive Elementary's Safe Route.

Kanning has drafted an informal petition, which a Poly Drive parent group says will be delivered to the Billings City Council Thursday. The top priority is clear.

"Immediately we’re looking for stop signs," he said, "then ideally a crosswalk guard on Lyman and Nine Clare."

They want the city to consider paying for it. If not, they’re willing to pay for it themselves. The community is behind them - Poly Drive just got a donation from SCL Health Tuesday of 'Slow Down' signs for front yards - anything to try and keep kids safe.

"It's not realistic to expect every single adult to walk their child to school. It would be madness if everybody had to do that," said Jablonski's stepfather Josh Toenyes. "So we’re not going to stop until we have a safe route to school."

An actual one - not just on paper.

Slow Down sign
SCL Health donated 'Slow Down' signs to Poly Drive Elementary to put up in neighboring front yards.