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McKeesport public works employees George Bell and Dave Cuadrado install the first sign promoting "Aly's Rules" at the intersection of Eden Park Boulevard, O'Neil Boulevard and Hartman Street. Similar signs will be going up at more than 30 bus stops around the city. (Tube City Almanac photo)
The first of what will likely be dozens of signs encouraging pedestrians to cross streets safely was installed Thursday morning near McKeesport's Founders Hall Middle School.
The signs promote "Aly's Rules," a safety campaign created by the family of Alyson Higdon, a Founders Hall student who died in 2014 after being struck by a truck at the intersection of O'Neil Boulevard, Hartman Street and Eden Park Boulevard.
Alyson's mother, Cindi Higdon; grandparents Sharon and Rick Tarsala; and siblings Caleb, Haylie and Jonah were on hand to see the first sign installed.
"I think of her everyday, but I'm a Christian, and I have a lot of faith," said Alyson's mother, Cindi Higdon. "I know she's with her dad in heaven, and one day I'll see her again."
Family members said that working on the "Aly's Rules" campaign, which includes a coloring book and lessons that are distributed to McKeesport Area students in kindergarten and first and second grade, has been a way both to keep Alyson's memory alive and help prevent other accidents.
They would like to extend the "Aly's Rules" campaign to other communities in the McKeesport Area School District, and to the surrounding communities, Sharon Tarsala said.
The family is approaching White Oak Borough next, and the "Aly's Rules" campaign was presented to students in South Allegheny School District last year.
Celebrating the installation of the first street sign promoting "Aly's Rules" are state Sen. Jim Brewster, Caleb Higdon, Cindi Higdon, Sharon Tarsala, Haylie Higdon, Jonah Higdon, Rick Tarsala and McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko. (Tube City Almanac photo)
But for the campaign to continue, even just in McKeesport, they will need to raise more money. Donations from businesses and individuals are paying for the first signs, which cost about $30 each. The city is donating the poles and the labor to install them.
The rules --- reinforced by the coloring book, which was designed by artist Missy McGrew of Herminie --- are "Always look, listen and yield."
"I can't say enough about them," McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said. "I can't even put it into words. I think it's absolutely incredible for them to take such a horrific tragedy and try to have something positive come out of it."
The intersection of O'Neil, Eden Park and Hartman is located near the McKeesport Area High School campus and Founders Hall Middle School and sees a lot of pedestrian traffic, not just during school hours but throughout the day.
The intersection also serves Penn State Greater Allegheny Campus, a Giant Eagle supermarket, Auberle and several churches, and is not far from Renziehausen Park.
About 17 months after the accident that claimed Alyson Higdon's life, another Founders Hall student, Deonte Cobbs, was struck and killed by a school bus at the intersection.
Since then, the city has invested in a series of upgrades.
Steel railings now discourage pedestrians from crossing at anywhere except crosswalks. The city has banned right turns on red from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and when the crossing signals are lit, all vehicle traffic is stopped for 30 seconds to give pedestrians time to cross.
In addition, the crosswalk buttons have been relocated to make them easier to reach, Cherepko said.
The "Aly's Rules" signs are designed to remind students of the safety lessons they learned in the classroom, the mayor said, but they're not just reminders for children.
Indeed, as the first sign was being installed on Thursday, a McKeesport police officer had to stop traffic after a woman stepped off the curb into the street without pressing the crosswalk button.
Funding from several sources, including the Allegheny County Community Infrastructure & Tourism Fund, has paid for additional safety improvements along Eden Park Boulevard, including a flashing yellow warning light at the driveway to the high school and speed-limit detection signs that warn drivers who are going too fast.
"It's really been a joint effort," State Sen. Jim Brewster said. "Now we have a family that's contributing. We have a collective group of people who are working together toward a common goal. There's no question that it's made a difference."
Editor's note: To sponsor an "Aly's Rules" sign or learn more about the "Aly's Rules" pedestrian safety curriculum, call Sharon Tarsala at (412) 664-4340 or Cindi Higdon at (412) 605-2041.
Originally published October 10, 2019.