Archive for Thursday, February 26, 2004

BESPC, city struggle with traffic

Suggestions made to ease congestion along Chapel

February 26, 2004

To Deb Ehling-Gwin, Chapel Street in front of Baldwin Elementary School Primary Center looks more like a demolition derby arena than a city street during afternoon dismissal.

"From 3:20 to 3:30, it's pretty much bumper cars, a demolition derby," the BESPC principal said. "People double park, people triple park, people park on or around the corners. People are parking on the south side of the road then having their kids cross the street in traffic."

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Even with school faculty and staff policing the area, she said, the bottleneck caused by parents picking up students along Chapel Street after school has always been an issue.

"Traffic congestion at dismissal has always, always been a problem," Gwin said. "We had thought this year having only half as many kids here, it wouldn't be a problem.

"It's better, but you wouldn't know it's better unless you'd been here last year," she said.

She thinks one of the reasons the school didn't see the problem improve was because since the upper elementary school opened, older siblings were no longer at the elementary school to walk the students home. She said the traffic congestion also worsens when weather is bad.

Gwin isn't the only one with concerns about the after-school traffic congestion. She said she had spoken with several concerned parents, and knew of others who had called the city about the problem.

"But no one seems to have suggestions to make it better," she said.

Instead, the city compiled several options that can be taken to improve the situation and presented them at a recent safety committee meeting.

The first suggestion changes parking along Chapel Street between Sixth and Eighth streets to parallel parking, which would widen the street approximately three feet.

Also recommended is the posting of no parking signs on the south side of Chapel Street between Sixth and Seventh streets. The no parking zone would also be extended to the district maintenance building between Seventh and Eighth streets.

Another change would eliminate the perpendicular parking in front of the BESPC office, which currently lines up with Seventh Street.

District staff would also be requested not to park along Chapel Street, and instead park in the lot north of the school gym or the lot on the southeast corner of Seventh and Chapel streets.

Another recommendation to ease congestion would require the help of the Baldwin City Police Department to develop a no-tolerance policy for those illegally parking on Chapel Street as they wait for the children and issue tickets for violators.

A sixth option would move the drop-off and pick-up zone to the north side of the school. It would involve widening Baker Street between Sixth and Eighth streets with additional parking spots to be used for drop-off and pickup only.

Gwin said she wasn't in favor of moving the pick up area to Baker Street, partly because of the buses that load and unload on the north side of the school.

"I see the potential for some of the problems we have now on the south side of the school to come about on the north side of the school without the availability of all of the staff," she said. "I don't like mixing the cars, students and bus traffic that would result if all of the pickups were in back."

The Baker Street option would also cost the most money, she said, because it would involve widening the street with an additional lane.

She said she thought the first five suggestions would help ease the congestion the most.

"I'm real hopeful the first five will really help the problem," she said. "I don't think there is a practical solution to absolutely solve the problem, but I think the first five will make it better. I think it will make it safer for the kids."

Council Member Tony Brown, who is a member of the safety committee, said the city agreed something needed to be done about the problem, and some of the suggestions were a good start.

"It's such a narrow street and parents have a difficult time just getting through there," Brown said. "It's causing a potential hazard for the kids as well."

He said the city and the district were going to try the first five suggestions over the next few months, possibly looking at the Baker Street option only if nothing else works.

"We want to limit the number of changes needed and save money if possible," he said. "We want to make the process as simple as possible.

"I think it's a logical effort," he said. "We do a little bit at a time."

The council will need to approve the suggestions that require resolutions, like the posting of no parking signs, which Brown said should be addressed at one of the upcoming council meetings, possibly as early as Monday.

He said he was pleased the school district and the city could work together to solve the issue.

"The overall goal everybody agrees on is let's keep kids safe," he said.

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