Monday, April 2, 2012

ESCONDIDO: Districts, city consider plans to ease school traffic chaos

By: Gary Warth

Escondido school and city officials this week agreed to take a look at a San Francisco program that has helped smooth traffic outside of campuses on mornings and afternoons.

"I kind of call it 'Disneyland style,'" said Kimber Allison, a parent of a kindergartner at Miller Elementary School in Escondido. "They always have someone right there getting people into the ride and out of the ride."
Allison presented the idea to receptive representatives of Escondido school districts and city officials Wednesday.

The concept is simple: Each school would have a unique plan for cars to approach the campus and alternative plans for rainy days when there is more traffic. Volunteers at the curb would help students in and out to make for speedy pickups and drop-offs.

Parents also would pledge not to double-park or block driveways in the neighborhood, and to park in designated areas when they are waiting to pick up their children after school.

On Wednesday, Allison attended the High School/Elementary School District Council Subcommittee meeting occasionally held by the city of Escondido. She was invited by city Councilwoman Olga Diaz.
Allison said she originally approached the city rather than the school district because she and other parents want a stop sign near the school at Brotherton Road and Miller Avenue.

She still wants the stop sign, but her goal has broadened to include the pickup and drop-off proposal for all schools in the Escondido Union School District and Escondido Union High School District.
EUSD board President Zoe Carpenter said she is interested in pursuing the idea.

"Obviously, we have problems at some of our sites," she said, adding that she lives near Bernardo Elementary School and has had to drive around cars blocking the lane on some afternoons.

Carpenter said some schools already had plans that make traffic flow smoothly in mornings and afternoons, but that she had no problem bringing the idea to the school board.

EUSD Superintendent Jennifer Walters also noted that some schools, such as Reidy Creek and North Broadway, are examples of schools where traffic flow is less of a problem, and said the district has tried to make improvements at other sites, such as at Juniper School, where new fencing and other additions were added.

Having traffic plans at every school was an idea worth exploring, she said.

"Could we have them at all of our schools?" Walters said. "Yes. Do I think we should? Yes."

But while the concept may be simple, implementing it will require much work and coordination.

Walters said designating areas for parking will mean studying compliance and safety issues.

There also could be liability questions if parents are asked to park on vacant lots or parking lots not owned by the district, she said.

Allison also said that the effort would require rallying parent volunteers to be stationed at each school.

But even if the plan takes one or two years to put in place, Diaz said the improvements will have been worth the wait.

"I've seen parents yell at each other in the parking lot because they're so aggravated by the situation," she said.

Allison said parents arrive about 30 minutes before school is out at Miller School and wait for students while illegally parked.

"I've seen parents put up shades and take naps in the line waiting for kids to be released in the afternoon," she said.

Ed Nelson, superintendent of the Escondido Union High School District, also saw promise in the plan. Nelson said the district already had worked with the city on making traffic-flow improvements outside of Escondido High School.

Ed Domingue, director of engineering services for Escondido, said the city can help in the plan by striping curbs and studying temporary traffic control improvements, but also said the bigger burden would fall on the school districts because of the volunteers it will require.

Allison said she got the idea for the traffic plans after a reading an article by parent Stephanie LeBeau in Scholastic magazine.

Reached by telephone in San Francisco, LeBeau said the plan is in place at three schools in the San Francisco Unified School District.

At Lafayette Elementary School, which her daughter attends, LeBeau said she created the "Stop, Drop & Go" plan about five years ago after the principal asked the PTA for help with a serious traffic problem.

"He said, 'We're having a really big problem out here. We've been having it for years. Neighbors are getting upset with driveways blocked, and it's just turned into a lot of angst with neighbors and parents,'" she said.

LeBeau said she researched solutions and found some schools where parent volunteers helped students out of cars so parents didn't have to get out, but that there was no organizational structure.

She proposed a program in which all volunteers wear vests and parents sign pledges to follow instructions about where to park and how to drop off or pick up their children.

Eighty percent of parents at the school signed the pledge, she said.

"It's been extremely successful at Lafayette," she said. "It's been running over 850 school days."

LeBeau said the program is run by parents and required five parents a day to commit to 20 minutes at their school.

"It's unrealistic to think that all parents will participate, but in each classroom there's at least 10 who will do it for one week," she said.

"The beauty of this program is that it's building the community while serving the community," she said.

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