Editor's Note: The following letter was submitted by Eileen Walsh, one of the speakers at last week's Township Committee meeting on the subject of a suggested cut-through from the municipal complex and other proposals for improving traffic flow at Ridge High School.
To the Editor:
I am writing in connection with efforts currently underway by the Bernards Township Board of Education to address traffic problems at and around Ridge High and [an] article in last week’s Bernardsville News.
Following its rerouting of buses through Homestead Village earlier this year, the BOE commissioned a traffic study by Dolan & Dean to examine traffic conditions on the campus itself and at the Lake Road/South Finley/Ridge High intersection. The bottom line seems to be that there is essentially a 10-15 minute peak period of congestion in the morning — roughly from 7:15 until 7:30 a.m. — which is largely caused by parents dropping off their children. The study found that parents often stop at the first available open spot in front of the high school, rather than proceed further along the frontage corridor, with the result being that traffic backs up in the driveway and onto South Finley. Due to after school activities, and the varying times at which parents pick up students from school, there is no comparable period of congestion in the afternoon.
The report appears to give short shrift to any suggestion that the 10-15 minute morning problem might be alleviated, or eliminated, by better traffic management and controls along the high school frontage (similar to control of traffic flow at Newark Liberty Airport for discharging and arriving passengers). Instead, the study identifies a number of possible solutions and makes several recommendations, many of which involve the construction of a new high school entrance.
One possible solution identified by the study involves the acquisition of private property from one of the abutting homeowners currently fronting on South Finley Avenue, but then notes that this would not be a viable option at this time due to fiscal considerations and topographic and environmental constraints.
Other recommendations made by the study and/or now under consideration by the Board include:
(A) The “municipal complex option”: Construction of a sidewalk through the municipal complex and paving of a gravel drive which would connect to Ridge High lots C&D, apparently for student traffic, at an estimated cost of $64,200.
(B) The “new driveway option”: Construction of a new driveway, off of South Finley, north of the Health Department, to access Ridge High Parking Lots C&D at an estimated cost of $178,000.
(C) The “existing Health Department option”: Creation of a left turn access off of South Finley, widening of the existing Health Department driveway and creation of a new dedicated drive aisle to connect the improved Health Department access drive to Ridge High Lots C & D, at an estimated cost of $121,000.
The Bernards Township Committee has raised a number of concerns about Option A. Although this option appears to be reasonable on its face, the Township Committee must consider factors beyond those relevant to Ridge High’s traffic problem and is privy to information that I am not. Thus, I believe that any assessment of this option should be left to the Township Committee.
As to potential and current options involving the area at and around the South Finley/Lake intersection, including Options B and C, making modifications at and around this intersection has essentially become the “default” mechanism for solving traffic problems on the Ridge High campus itself. Homeowners in this area have already shouldered more than our fair share of past “improvements”. For example, the existing main driveway replaced a wooded area between two of our homes; one family was forced to sell its home to the county and relocate; I was forced to sell part of my property to the county; residents along the western boundary of the Ridge High campus, south of the main driveway, now have a lane of traffic behind their homes (replacing the tennis courts); and at least one resident has returned home at times to find his private driveway occupied by the vehicles of parents waiting to pick up their children. Creating a new, third Ridge High driveway (meaning that there would be three driveways within approximately 400 feet of each other) or improving the existing Health Department driveway would require county approval and presumably require modifications to South Finley to ensure its compliance with current requirements for county roads. This could result in additional costs and could require the forced sale to the county of some of our property.
Again, the problem: 10-15 minutes of morning congestion at Ridge High on 180 days.
Options B or C: Would impact S. Finley/Lake neighbors far beyond that narrow window.
While the D&D study alluded to the possibility of a “South Maple option” through the public works site, that has been discounted as an option for vehicular access due to the ridge’s steep grade and the prohibitive fiscal impact of making it useable by vehicles and the environmental impact of deforestation.
I am surprised, however, that neither the D&D study nor the Board seems to have considered potential use of the Community Center site on South Maple. That site is already linked to the rear of Ridge High by an asphalt path. It would seem that Ridge High could impose a “blackout” period for some period of time, during which parents would be unable to drop students off at the campus, but would be able to drop them off at this site. This option either could be used in its current form or modified to facilitate traffic. It seems to have a number of advantages, which include:
- It’s probably free.
- If changes are required to facilitate the flow of traffic, it’s unlikely that they will exceed cost projections for Options 2 and 3.
- As I understand it, some parents and students are already using this “drop off” point, so there should be no objection to others doing so as well.
- It involves the use of community property and avoids further hardship to private property owners at and near the South Finley/Lake intersection.
- It would alleviate traffic congestion on South Finley, particularly at the Lake Road intersection, during the 10-15 morning peak congestion period and should make it easier to get into and out of the Ridge campus, thus eliminating any need to widen Lake Road and the Ridge High driveway (options also now under consideration by the Board).
- It would alleviate traffic congestion at Ridge High during the 10-15 morning peak period.
- It would alleviate traffic congestion in Homestead Village, by getting the buses out of that area and permitting them to return to the Ridge campus.
- It further incentivizes students/parents to use busing, when it’s an option for them.
- It does not involve use of the municipal complex and eliminates potential interference with the entry and exit of police vehicles.
- It avoids disturbing the historic stone wall on the eastern side of South Finley.
- South Maple Avenue should easily be able to able to absorb the additional traffic.
- As no changes to South Maple would be necessary, it should not require county approval.
Yes, students will have to walk up the ridge, but not substantially further, if further at all, than students are now walking either from the municipal complex when dropped off by their parents at that site or from Collyer Avenue, where many students now park, and the distance involved is considerably less than the statutory 2-mile threshold for BOE-provided busing. And again, it seems that some students are already doing this.
Yes, it’s possible that the softball field may be affected, if modifications are required. But there are at least 2 other softball fields in town (and there may be more) — how many does Bernards Township need?
Yes, enforcement will present its challenges, but comprehensive communication to parents and students and the use of decals and/or placards to identify those vehicles that will be permitted to access the campus during “blackout” periods should hopefully make that task easier.
The South Maple option, coupled with better management by designated personnel of traffic flow at and around the oval in front of the high school and mandatory “blackout” periods should go a long way toward reducing, if not completely eliminating, traffic congestion during the 10-15 minute morning peak period at Ridge High. As the Board of Education has been forced to consider programmatic cuts in recent years, solutions which require little, if any, monetary expenditures, should be attractive and fully explored. Taxpayers should not be forced to bear the costs of expenditures which might be avoided through the use of an available community resource and, on behalf of my South Finley/Lake Road neighbors, I hope that the Board, upon reflection, will opt to pursue the “South Maple option.”
Very truly yours,