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[Study] The Most Dangerous School Zones in Denver

October 1, 2020

Last November, tragedy struck in Fort Collins as a 6-year-old kindergarten student was hit and killed by a vehicle while using a crosswalk near Lopez Elementary School. There was no crossing guard present at this intersection.

While this incident is a parent’s worst nightmare, the sad truth is that it is not an isolated occurrence. 

The steady rise of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities across the country is a particularly troubling trend in Colorado and Denver, where serious accidents involving non-motorists occur on an all-too-common basis – especially around schools. While students are perhaps the most at risk, in these areas, victims come from all age groups.

  • In July 2019, Scott Hendrickson was cycling near West Bar Val Wood Park when he was struck by a minivan as he crossed an intersection. He died the next day, succumbing to injuries suffered in the crash.
  • In December 2019, Roosevelt Cribbs Jr. was driving an RV down West Jewell Avenue at noon when he went up onto the curb, struck and killed a 44-year-old woman on the sidewalk, and fled the scene. He would later be arrested and charged for the hit-and-run.
  • Just one month later, a pedestrian was injured in a hit-and-run at the corner of 22nd and Curtis. The man later died at the hospital.

All three fatalities occurred within half a mile of a school.

How many motor vehicle collisions are students exposed to while getting to school?  How safe are Denver’s streets for children walking, biking or being driven to school?  We partnered with data visualization firm 1Point21 Interactive to find out and determine the most dangerous school zones in Denver.

Interactive Map: Denver School Zones and Motor Vehicle Collisions

Our Process

Using data from the Denver Police Department, we analyzed seven years of traffic accident data to isolate all crashes that occurred within a school zone – defined as a quarter-mile radius around each school  – during the hours of 6 am – 8 pm, hours during which it is reasonable that children could be present.

From 2013-2019, there were a total of  139,489 motor vehicle crashes in Denver between the hours of 6 am and 8 pm.  Over 32 percent of those crashes (45,339 collisions to be exact) occurred within a quarter-mile of a school.

These school zone accidents resulted in 1,193 serious injuries and left 100 people dead. These crashes involved 1,487 pedestrians and 948 bicyclists in all.

We then found totals for each school and calculated our Student Risk Index (SRI) in order to rank the most dangerous school zones.  The SRI takes into account the total number of crashes, severe injuries, fatalities and the number of pedestrians and bicyclists involved in crashes.

Here are the 50 most dangerous school zones in Denver:

School Name Neighborhood Grades Crashes Ped. Cyclists Severe Injury Fatals SRI
5280 High School Capitol Hill 9th to 12th 1346 103 31 0 114.86
Riseup Community School Five Points 9th to 12th 1275 94 21 2 103.22
Emily Griffith High School North Capitol Hill 9th to 12th 1598 96 22 0 102.61
Downtown Denver Expeditionary School North Capitol Hill K to 5th 1598 96 22 0 102.61
University Prep – Arapahoe St. Five Points K to 5th 1109 88 21 2 97.92
Morey Middle School Capitol Hill 6th to 8th 1258 87 23 1 95.64
Contemporary Learning Academy Capitol Hill 9th to 12th 1032 76 19 1 83.73
Warren Village Inc Cheesman Park Pre Only 850 65 21 0 73.03
Sewall Child Development Center Cheesman Park Pre Only 1016 63 24 0 70.44
Colonnade Children’S Center Civic Center Pre Only 1117 58 19 0 62.93
Denver Center For 21St-Century Learning At Wyman City Park West 6th to 12th 861 54 17 0 59.33
Compassion Road Academy Civic Center 9th to 12th 856 48 21 0 53.89
Denver Justice High School Capitol Hill 9th to 12th 848 44 14 1 48.15
West Early College Civic Center 6th to 12th 613 41 15 0 46.02
West Leadership Academy Civic Center 6th to 12th 613 41 15 0 46.02
East High School Congress Park 9th to 12th 803 42 14 0 45.66
St Francis De Sales Washington Park West Pre to 8th 863 40 9 1 42.55
Respect Academy Harvey Park 9th to 12th 615 32 23 1 38.50
Abraham Lincoln High School Harvey Park 9th to 12th 615 32 23 1 38.50
Polaris Elementary School Five Points 1st to 5th 654 35 12 0 38.21
Dora Moore Ece-8 School Capitol Hill Pre to 8th 488 33 12 0 37.06
Girls Athletic Leadership School Middle School Lincoln Park 6th to 8th 851 34 10 0 36.00
Girls Athletic Leadership School High School Lincoln Park 9th to 12th 851 34 10 0 36.00
Montessori-Washington Park Washington Park West Pre to K 767 33 10 1 35.58
La Academia/Inner City Parish Lincoln Park 6th to 12th 609 34 5 0 35.40
Pascual Ledoux Academy Mar Lee Pre Only 748 30 19 3 35.01
Auraria Early Learning Center Lincoln Park Pre to K 733 33 6 0 34.35
El Mundo Feliz Mar Lee Pre Only 705 29 21 1 33.73
Whittier Ece-8 School Five Points Pre to 8th 261 27 8 0 31.14
Denver Center For International Studies Baker 6th to 12th 490 29 6 0 30.78
Compass Academy Westwood 6th to 8th 477 26 13 1 30.09
Kepner Beacon Middle School Westwood 6th to 8th 477 26 13 1 30.09
Strive Prep – Kepner Westwood 6th to 8th 477 26 13 1 30.09
Rocky Mountain Prep: Southwest Westwood Pre to 4th 477 26 13 1 30.09
Career Education Center Early College Jefferson Park 9th to 12th 613 25 9 0 26.84
Cec Early Learning Academy Jefferson Park Pre Only 613 25 9 0 26.84
Valdez Elementary School Highland Pre to 5th 569 24 9 1 26.32
Strive Prep – Westwood Mar Lee 6th to 8th 623 22 17 3 26.06
Strive Prep – Smart Academy Mar Lee 9th to 12th 623 22 17 3 26.06
College View Elementary School College View – South Platte Pre to 5th 199 17 15 3 25.97
Academy Of Urban Learning Highland 9th to 12th 590 22 8 1 23.86
Eagleton Elementary School Villa Park Pre to 5th 427 20 14 0 23.28
Strive Prep – Federal Harvey Park 6th to 8th 526 20 14 0 22.66
Excel Academy Harvey Park 9th to 12th 526 20 14 0 22.66
Academy 360 Montbello Pre to 5th 674 19 22 1 22.38
Center For Talent Development At Greenlee Lincoln Park Pre to 5th 385 20 6 1 22.08
Anchor Center For Blind Children Stapleton Pre Only 201 20 4 0 21.99
Beth Jacob High School West Colfax 9th to 12th 372 19 6 1 21.04
Bromwell Elementary School Cherry Creek Pre to 5th 403 20 2 1 20.99
Colfax Elementary School West Colfax Pre to 5th 208 16 8 2 20.62

It’s important to note that there are multiple schools that are located at the same address.  In these cases, each school has the same SRI and crash data associated with it.  We’ve decided to include all schools however, so that parents and other concerned citizens may search for their specific school for reference.  If you don’t see your child’s school listed, it was not in the top 50.  To see the info for all of Denver’s nearly 300 schools, click here.

The Most Dangerous School Zones

Below are the top 5 most dangerous school zones in Denver. It’s important to note not only the quantity of pedestrian and bicycle accidents in each zone, but their location relative to each other: every single school zone in this section is within a 1.5-mile radius of the State Capitol Building.

#1: 5280 High School (60 ped, 43 bike, 31 severe, SRI 114.86)

With 103 total pedestrian and bicycle crashes, 5280 High School in Capitol Hill is the most dangerous school zone in Denver. Located at 899 Broadway, this charter school is located just five blocks away from the Colorado State Capitol – and half a mile away from the Governor’s Mansion.

Additionally, 5280 High School is south of a short strip of bars and nightclubs. This may contribute to the general unsafe environment for pedestrians and bicyclists.

It’s also worth mentioning that 5280 High School is a new school; the inaugural year started in 2018. This means that a vast majority of accidents that occurred within its vicinity occurred before the school was a fixture in the neighborhood. With a sudden influx of students gathering in a place already prone to pedestrian and bicycle accidents, this may be a school to pay attention to in the coming years.

#2: Rise Up Community School (57 ped, 37 bike, 21 severe, 2 fatal, SRI 103.22)

Rise Up Community School ranked second with an SRI of 103. Located in the historic Five Points neighborhood, this school zone ranked especially high due to a large number of pedestrian crashes (57), bicycle crashes (37), and two traffic fatalities within close vicinity to the school.

Five Points is a thriving hub of culture and nightlife. Rise Up is within a mile from notable breweries, eateries, and Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies. This close proximity to bustling centers of social life may be a primary contributing factor to the high incidence of pedestrian and bicycle accidents. Additionally, Rise Up is located on Broadway, a wide, major road through Denver that spans multiple lanes. Long crosswalks and high-speed limits on a major arterial road can contribute heavily to the lack of safety and increase the chance of accidents and injury.

#3: Downtown Denver Expeditionary & Emily Griffith (64 ped, 32 bike, 22 severe, SRI 102.61)

Tied for third is Downtown Denver Expeditionary School and Emily Griffith High School – both of which share a building in the North Capitol Hill neighborhood. Just a few short blocks north of the State Capitol Building, these school zones were home to 64 total pedestrian accidents and 32 total bicycle accidents.

Located just outside the Business District, the streets around this building are constantly busy with vehicles going in and out of town. In addition, there is a prevalence of parking garages within the block – including one directly across the street. This can lead to further traffic problems in and around campus – not an ideal situation for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike.

#4: University Prep – Arapahoe St. (54 ped, 34 bike, 21 severe, 2 fatal, SRI 97.92)

University Prep, an elementary school located on Arapahoe Street in Five Points, ranked 4th in our study. The zone scored an SRI of 97.92, with 54 pedestrian accidents and 34 bicycle accidents. These statistics may look similar to another notable school zone in the neighborhood: that of the Rise Up Community School.

In fact, the two schools are neighbors, less than a block from each other. It is therefore highly likely that the school zones have an overlap in overall accidents, serious injuries, and fatalities. As a result, many of the concerns posited for Rise Up are shared by University Prep.

#5: Morey Middle School – Capitol Hill (52 ped, 35 bike, 23 serious, 1 fatal)

Morey Middle School is ranked fifth with an SRI of 95.64. Approximately half a mile south of the State Capitol Building, this school zone has much of the same problems as many of the other school zones within this neighborhood: narrow streets, heavy traffic, close vicinity to bustling cultural and/or business centers.

Some Notable Preschools Round Out the Top 10

According to our findings, select preschools have a high incidence of danger for pedestrians and cyclists. Three of the top 10 in our list are preschools:

Warren Village Inc (39 ped, 26 bike, 21 serious, 70.44 SRI)

The Warren Village school zone ranked 8th with a 70.44 SRI. This building was home to 39 pedestrian and 26 bike accidents, with 21 total accidents that caused severe injuries.

Located one block north of Cheesman Park, Warren Village is a transitional housing development for single-parent families with low or no-income. Included with the building amenities is an early childcare preschool program for those children.

There are no immediate red flags that indicate why there may be a high number of pedestrian and bicycle crashes within close vicinity of the campus. One potential source of danger is its close proximity to Colfax Avenue, a wide arterial road with high-speed limits and multiple lanes. That, combined with a predominantly residential area with smaller roads and no formal crosswalks, can be a potentially dangerous combination.

Although this is not an educational establishment in the traditional sense, we believe that any location which has high concentrations of children that is prone to pedestrian and bicycle accidents should be called out as a cause for concern.

Sewall Child Development Center (43 ped, 20 bike, 24 serious)

Just four blocks east of Warren Village lies our 9th ranked zone, the former location of the Sewall Child Development Center – with 43 pedestrian accidents and 20 bicycle accidents for an SRI of 70.44. Because it is within close proximity to Warren Village, this campus shares many of the same safety concerns: a wide arterial road adjacent to campus, feeding into residential streets with very little in the way of traditional crosswalks and four-way intersections.

It’s important to note that the Sewall Child Development Center moved to a location one mile away on Fillmore Street in 2016. Although the school is no longer at this location, we believe it was nonetheless important to present the data as it is. In this case, the school building was torn down and housing developments were built on it. Therefore, this information may still be useful to prospective residents looking to move into the neighborhood.

Colonnade Children’s Center (20 ped, 38 bike, 19 serious, SRI 59.33)

The Colonnade Children’s Center is ranked 10th with an SRI of 59.33. Much of this can be attributed to the high number of bicycle accidents within the school zone; despite having a lower ranking, the only zone with higher bike accidents in our list is 5280 High School – our most dangerous school zone in Denver.

This is likely due to its central location in downtown Denver. Located in the Cesar Chavez Memorial Building in downtown, this childcare center primarily offers services to the government agencies who reside in this building. With a high number of people downtown who use the bicycle as their primary mode of transportation, it can be logical to conclude that more accidents will inevitably occur as a result.

Still, bicycling advocates have remarked that, despite the prevalence of bicycles in the community, there isn’t enough being done to ensure their safety on the streets of downtown Denver. According to official city bike maps, the roads directly adjacent to this zone are considerably lacking in terms of cyclist protections – aside from a protected lane running through W 14th Avenue, there isn’t much other indication that this area is friendly to bicyclists.

The Correlation Between Our Findings and Vision Zero

Like many major US cities, Denver has committed to its own Vision Zero plans – the goal of zero traffic-related deaths by 2030. In doing so, it has formulated a five-year plan aiming toward this ultimate goal.

In a comprehensive evaluation, the city has identified a High Injury Network, a network of Denver streets that account for a large number of traffic deaths. According to the Vision Zero Action Plan, this includes just 5% of Denver’s city streets – yet is responsible for 50% of all traffic fatalities.

Within the High Injury Network, the city has designated Communities of Concern, areas of Denver where more vulnerable residents live. These areas target multiple segments of the Denver community – including children and school areas, and neighborhoods which may be at a higher risk of traffic danger.

This data generally matches up with our findings in regard to dangerous school zones. In fact, for the most part, all of our top school zones overlap neatly with both the High Injury Network and the Communities of Concern for Children and Schools.

Our findings further substantiate these claims that there is a problem – and the need for real, actionable reform that serves to help move forward traffic safety in Denver.

School Zone Safety Tips

Although much more must be done at the city and state level in order to improve the safety of Denver’s schools and roads, drivers and pedestrians can do their part to reduce danger in the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.

Drivers

  • Keep your eyes on the road and its immediate surroundings. Children often do not pay attention to their surroundings – and younger kids often lack the spatial awareness to look both ways before crossing a street. In school zones, be aware of children darting suddenly into the middle of the street.
  • Follow all relevant traffic laws and posted speed limits. School zones often have strict laws intended to curb speed and disorder. Follow any posted speed limits, and be sure to stop at stop signs – especially those indicated by the flashing lights of a school bus.
  • Remain calm. During the afternoon, when schools are dismissed, traffic can increase suddenly, and drivers may focus on finding their child instead of following proper traffic etiquette. Despite the chaos, remain calm and continue to focus on driving safely.

Pedestrians & Cyclists

  • Follow all relevant laws. Pedestrians generally have the right-of-way at all intersections and crosswalks – marked and unmarked. Avoid crossing the street in the middle of the road – this sudden, unpredictable behavior can result in dangerous consequences.
  • Minimize the use of your phone or any other electronic devices. Although distracted driving is a much more serious problem than distracted walking or biking, it nonetheless introduces an opportunity for an accident to occur. Try to stay attentive when walking home – and never use your phone while crossing the street.
  • Always be cautious when crossing the street. Crosswalks should be safe paths for pedestrians to cross, but motorists are often not as attentive as they should be. Always look both ways before crossing the street – and continue to look for oncoming traffic while crossing.
  • Stay on the right lane when cycling. Colorado state law requires all cyclists to stick to the right curb when sharing the road with motorists. You may only change lanes when making a left turn, passing other cyclists, or avoiding unsafe obstacles in the road.
  • Always wear a helmet. Colorado is one of the few states in the country where helmet use while cycling is not a requirement. Still, we recommend always wearing a helmet – especially when traveling down the busy roads of downtown Denver. Most cyclist fatalities occur due to severe head injuries – and wearing a helmet can reduce the chances of a serious head injury by as much as 50%.