Volunteer crossing guard protects students from Penn Ave. motorists

Story by Andrew McKeon, The Bulletin

ABOVE: Volunteer crossing guard Rose Parker remains steadfast in the face of oncoming Penn Ave. traffic. She also remains skeptical of local drivers’ reaction time during rush hour. Read more in the August 2018 Bulletin. Photo by Andrew McKeon.

Garfield – Rose Parker keeps her head on a swivel as she looks up and down Penn Ave. The citizen crossing guard has lots of advice, both metaphorical and literal, for dangerous drivers that zoom past her unofficial post at the intersection of N. Millvale and Penn Aves.
“You’ve got to take the long view,” she said. “You’ve got to look ahead and slow down.”
Usually decked out in safety-signaling shades of red on most weekday mornings and afternoons during the school year, Parker stands guard for hours as Pittsburgh Public School (PPS) students like her grandson enter and exit various school buses. She regularly throws herself into traffic, as a mere volunteer, and hoists a hand-held stop sign while shepherding kids across the street – inviting all sorts of discourse with angry drivers.
“I’m trying to be reasonable, hoping that you see me standing there and realize that I’m there for a reason,” Parker opined to the hypothetical motorist. “If my shouting offends you, then you should ask yourself why I’m shouting. It’s not like I just woke up and said, ‘I feel like shouting at somebody today.’”
When The Bulletin last spoke with Garfield’s bravest community servant in May 2017 [“Citizen crossing guard provides safe passage on Penn Ave.” Vol. 42, No. 5], she was just wrapping up her first year of guard duty. Since then, things have obviously changed in the city’s East End, for better or worse.
A colossus of condominiums continues encroaching on Garfield from all sides, rendering Penn Ave. into a racetrack for some of the more inconsiderate condo-dwellers. As more people flock to – and commute through – the East End every day, the uptick in vehicular traffic puts a strain on Pittsburgh’s already problematic roadways. The City’s seasonal construction schedule does not help things, either.
“The City has been blocking off the bridges, so everyone’s looking for alternatives because they might miss that next light,” Parker said.
She jokes that her motivations for serving as a crossing guard are purely selfish; one of the students she saves from oncoming traffic “might end up becoming a doctor,” Parker noted. “Maybe they can help me live to be 135 years old. Am I being greedy?”
Garfield parents appreciate the crossing guard for reasons beyond her traffic-stopping heroics. Parker also goes out of her way to keep the lines of communication open between kids and their parents; whenever a student cannot call home for any reason, she offers up her cell phone to help them contact family members.
A bus driver for five years, Parker knows a lot about the safety protocols for both drivers and rider. In order to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL), she learned all the ins-and-outs of bus driving – from basic vehicle operations to more situational knowledge, like how long it takes the air-brake system to bring everything to a complete stop.
“I had to know the mechanics of the whole vehicle before I got my CDL,” she explained, “especially how to check the brakes before and after a stop.”
Parker said that, despite her conversations with elected representatives, no policy-makers have responded to her demands for safety cameras along Penn Ave. The City could just check the tape, she suggested, and make reckless drivers pay steep fines for their violations.
“Our Mayor says we don’t have enough money to pay for all these things that are so important to us,” Parker insisted. “Well, then how do we come up with fundraising for all this other new stuff?”
She questions how any visions of a “City for All” could include such bad drivers.
On the afternoon of June 8, the last day of school for PPS students, the crossing guard received well-wishes from students and parents who were eager to greet her again in the fall. Despite the satisfaction of finishing out the school year with no harmful incidents, the crossing guard kept the long view in mind while welcoming the last few buses to a safe stop.
“It just seems like [local politicians] are not paying attention to this dangerous situation,” Parker observed.
“Oh, they’ll take notice alright,” her friend, Darlene Summers, interjected, “when some kid gets killed by a car out here. That’s when they’ll finally do something about it.”