By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Four-year-old Hunter Hazelton sprints across the Lila Drive cul-de-sac. It's 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and he doesn't want to be late for his swimming lesson. Sterling Wardell watches his friend Hunter leave, then the 3-year-old quickly turns on his heels and runs across the street after him.
"Hey, Sterling, get back here," Phil Wardell calls out to his son, but Sterling has already safely reached the other side of the street, at least this time.
"They're just too young yet to understand you can't do that," Sterling's mother, Ruth Wardell, said Wednesday. "We try to keep them out of the street and teach them to look before they cross, but they're kids. Sometimes they get excited and run out into the street."
It's situations like this that prompted the Wardells to start a neighborhood petition earlier this summer, requesting the city post both a "Dead End" sign and a "Slow - Children at Play" sign on Lila Drive. The neighborhood group presented its request to the Streets and Sidewalks Committee of the Havre City Council on Monday. The committee and the full City Council approved the dead end sign, but the committee denied the request for a children at play sign.
"There's children at play in several areas of town," public works director Dave Peterson said at Monday's Streets and Sidewalks Committee meeting. "If this sign request is approved, who's to say the committee won't get similar requests from every block in town."
On May 17, the Streets and Sidewalks Committee rejected a similar request for a children at play sign from a group of Spruce Drive residents, citing the same concerns for a possible influx of sign requests. Instead, the committee requested extra police patrol in the Spruce Drive area.
"Children at play signs cannot be enforced," Peterson said. "They're just a warning, and people don't seem to pay attention to them anyway."
Ruth Wardell said there's 25 children living on Lila Drive, nine of those age 10 and under.
"I want to keep our children safe," the mother of four said. "I don't want to see an accident."
On Wednesday afternoon the four Wardell children were outside playing, alongside several other neighborhood children, including Tracy Huebsch's three little girls, ages 2, 4 and 6. While the older children pushed their younger counterparts on tricycles and carried squealing little girls on their backs, the parents stood watch, trying to make sure every child stayed safely, out of the street. Occasionally, a child would break free from the adults' careful supervision and ride a bike into the street or chase a ball into the cul-de-sac.
"We can't always prevent that from happening," said Huebsch, who's lived on Lila Drive for five years. "The safety of our neighborhood kids is our top concern, and we'll do anything we can to protect them."
Huebsch said she's hopeful a dead end sign will deter drivers from trying to use the cul-de-sac as a through street, but she also wants drivers to be aware that children are living and playing in the area.
"The first thing I do when I see a children at play sign is slow down," Huebsch said. "It makes me more aware as a driver. I don't see why we can't get a sign like that. We have lots of children on this street. It just makes sense."
Hunter's mother, Stacy Hazelton, said she has her hands full with Hunter and his 2-year-old sister, Mollee, without having to worry about every car on Lila Drive.
"There's quite a bit of traffic on this street, considering it's a dead end," Hazelton said. "And the drivers are going too fast. I'm afraid that one of these kids is going to get hit."
Though the Lila Drive neighbors said they're disappointed that the city didn't approve their request for a "Slow - Children at Play" sign, they're not going to stop there.
"We'll get a sign ourselves and put it up," Ruth Wardell said. "It's that important."
City Council member Allen "Woody" Woodwick, who chairs the Streets and Sidewalks Committee, said residents can do that as long as they erect the sign on private property and not on the city right of way.
The Lila Drive residents said they'd appreciate extra police patrol in their neighborhood, but also said they wouldn't shy away from helping to enforce the speed limit and caution drivers.
"We'll get out here with a bull horn if we have to," Ruth Wardell said. "Anything we can do to help make drivers aware of our kids, we're up for it."
Woodwick said he would ask Havre police to step up patrols on Lila Drive.