Children in danger

These photos were taken at 7:32 in the morning of Thursday 16 September 2010 in Sokehs, Pohnpei, on the circumferential road between Palikir Elementary School and the College of Micronesia-FSM. Due to geography and other factors, a significant portion of the students at Palikir Elementary walk along this stretch of two lane road.

At 7:30 A.M. this stretch is carrying heavy two-way traffic. Cars are coming up from Kitti on the morning commute to the national capitol campus in Palikir and into the main town of Kolonia. College faculty, staff, and students are "reverse" commuting from Kolonia to the College of Micronesia-FSM.

The road is two lane and quite narrow, the width well below any standards used on roads of a similar age in Europe or the United States. There are no shoulders, no sidewalks. The children, ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade must walk in the road.

Rain falls on Pohnpei year-round, these images were taken on a typical misty, wet Pohnpei morning. In order to safely take these photos I slowed my vehicle down to an idle crawl.

No car was behind me - had there been I could not have taken these images. There would have been a risk that a car behind me would try to pass me - just to get to the college a mere few seconds faster.

After years of observing, I would assert that almost no one here thinks about passing in terms of actual time gain, passing is an almost automatic response to coming up behind a slower car. Even if someone is near to their destination, the urge to pass seems almost unstoppable and they will pass, though the gain in time is but seconds.
My car is headed eastbound from Palikir Elementary School towards the college. The silver car headed towards me has just passed a car behind it, barely visible if one clicks on the image and then enlarges the full size image. Note the long line of children along the south side of the road headed back west towards Palikir Elementary. The driver had to move into their lane in order to execute the high speed pass.

This stretch of road is the first significant "straight" stretch after a long series of winding, hilly turns down in Kitti. Kitti drivers use this stretch to pass. While some college bound cars may occasionally pass, my own experience is that more of the passing involves westbound traffic. On this particular random morning two westbound cars passed, as seen in the images.
In the above image the blue van is in the act of passing a lighter colored car just past a narrow bridge over a small creek. To the right an adult walks a child to school. Note that they have no choice but to walk in the road - there are no shoulders on Pohnpei. Of the states in the Federated States of Micronesia only Yap has shoulders on their roads.
The van was moving at a high rate of speed, well in excess of 50 kph as it shot past my vehicle. This stretch of road has, to the best of my knowledge, a 25 kph speed limit. The speed limit is all but never enforced. Up near the college the road was posted as having a 15 kph speed limit.
This photo was taken up closer to the college where the speed limit was posted at one time as being 15 kph, three more children head down into the gauntlet, taking their lives into their hands on a daily basis.

This is not a new situation. This developed when the college built the new national site in Palikir, which opened summer 1996. The situation is not unique either. Children attending Sekere Elementary school also in Sokehs also face two-way commuter traffic, but there the speeds are typically far lower due to the geography and the presence of three "one-lane" bridges.

As far as I am aware, over the past 14 years one, possibly two, children have been hit. No fatalities of which I am aware, but the clock must be ticking. On days with heavy rain, drivers cannot well see. One day the "perfect storm" of bad coincidences will bring tragedy to this stretch of road.

Despite general awareness of the risks posed to the children, there appears to be no will nor effort to seek solutions to this danger to the children.

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