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'She would be happy': Des Moines expands school speed zones after Ema Cardenas' death

Des Moines City Council voted in June to allow school speed zones to include areas where kids are frequently present, such as stadiums and practice fields.

DES MOINES, Iowa — After 14-year-old East High student Ema Cardenas was killed in a hit-and-run, her family took action to make the streets safer for kids like her.

Now, as the city council has adopted changes to expand school speed zones, it seems as if the family's efforts have paid off. 

Cardenas was hit while crossing the 1600 block of East University Avenue after school on April 28. 

"We have to drive by that spot every day. And it's sometimes difficult," said Anna Campos, Ema's mother. 

Campos along with Ema's sister, Nayellia Sandoval, and other loved ones have been leading the push for change that will make the area safer for pedestrians. 

"The city council members have been contacting me," Campos said. "They've given me tools or other avenues to go through." 

The Des Moines City Council voted on June 27 to allow school speed zones to include areas where school children are frequently present, such as stadiums and practice fields, official council communication documents say.

"This expands it saying we can we can make a school zone not necessarily right next to a school house, but next to a school facility. So that will give us the ability to expand the area and look, lowering the speed limit on east 14th from East 14th down to 17th," said Council Ward 2 representative Linda Westergaard

Prior to the definitional changes, municipal code only allowed for the installation of school speed limit signs and beacons within established school districts, which were previously defined as "up to 200 feet in either direction from a 'schoolhouse'" according to council documents.

However, those same documents note East High School is "unique" in that the school's stadium and practice fields are not directly adjacent or across from the school building. Additionally, Hiatt Middle School is within the same area. 

These two factors "[expand] the area of student activity typically seen near the school building to further along the corridor," council documents say. 

The newly-modified municipal code defines school districts based on school facilities, rather than simply school buildings themselves. 

Under these new qualifications, engineering staff now plan to relocate the existing school flasher equipment that currently sits at westbound E. University Ave/IA 163 to a new location near McCormick Street. 

The project should be completed by this fall. The estimated cost of the project is $6,000. 

Campos said she is thrilled at the changes the council is set to make — and Ema would be too. 

"She would be happy to be a resident in in Des Moines, knowing that the city councilman have our back," Campos said. 

Further changes to school flasher locations are part of a proposed larger project that will begin in 2024, pending funding. Anticipated changes include updating pedestrian crossing flashers along East University with speed feedback signs, as well as adding multiple new HAWK signals.

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