Sitting in the audience the other night, it seemed a safe bet to say that most (although maybe not all) at the meeting would like to come up with a better idea for relieving morning traffic than rerouting buses carrying students to the back entrance of Ridge High School. That partial solution, in place since Feb. 1, has infuriated many Homestead Village residents as Ridge-bound buses and cars head along their streets toward the Cedar Hill Elementary School.
Following a very comprehensive report by a traffic consultant, which was presented at Monday's board meeting, board members at least were able to throw support behind some relatively small — and cheaper — solutions that might have a relatively substantial impact on how smoothly traffic flows on weekday mornings at the high school. That includes shortening the timing of the light, installing raised traffic "humps" or tables to slow speeding, and also striping lanes in front of the high school to assign cars and drivers to proper lanes.
How well is the current system working? Well, based on traffic consulting standards, some of the intersections/main traffic lanes at the high school on South Finley Avenue now rate an "F" as far as traffic flow. That includes the approach along Lake Road to the traffic light at the intersection with South Finley Avenue, right at the entrance to the high school.
I think it's also probably safe to say that an "F" wouldn't be acceptable in any other area of functioning at Ridge High School!
While I might be tempted to say here that this knotty problem might make a worthwhile class project for, say, an Advanced Placement Physics course, there were a number of ideas that came up in the traffic study that definitely deserve a closer look. (Although, now that I think about it, some of our Ridge AP students might be able to come up with some other effective solutions, or at least further refine some of the proposals presented in the professional traffic report. And hey, they definitely by now are familiar with the way traffic works at the high school!)
After the initial steps advised by the consultant are implemented, most likely before fall, another option that MAY be workable is directing buses that enter the school's main driveway to parking lot "A," the first right off the driveway and before reaching the school's main entrance. The buses then could loop around and drop students at the rear entrance to the new gym and possibly (at Board Member Priti Shah's suggestion) also in front of the main front entrance to the new gym.
Potential drawbacks to that include waiting buses that block parking spaces in lot A and the need to carefully guide the buses to merge with the main traffic flow. Having someone standing and directing the merge for buses exiting from parking lot A was suggested at the meeting.
The school board agreed on Monday to look very carefully at that suggestion, with the goal of potentially implementing it this fall.
Another suggestion that sounds pretty good, at least on paper, is quickly paving the connector road between the back lot for the municipal complex at 1 Collyer Lane with some back parking lots at the high school. Gary Dean, the traffic consultant, specified that route would only be for INCOMING cars heading into the municipal look from Collyer Lane. Those cars would exit through the high school. After morning rush hour, the connector road could be closed off with a gate.
So what's the problem? For one thing, township officials have adamantly opposed allowing school traffic on township property — even though all know that some parents drop off their students behind the municipal building, and let them trudge across the athletic field (with heels, ever?) and through the back parking lots to reach their destination.
The Township Committee, and police, have very reasonably pointed out that buses or other traffic stacked up to wait to LEAVE via Collyer Lane would block police cars and other emergency vehicles. And apparently the stone entrance to the town hall is too narrow to accommodate two passing buses anyway.
I'm sure many parents kind of hope the township will listen with an open mind. After all, as some pointed out the other night, this is a township-wide problem, too, as frustrated commuters get caught up in high school kid traffic. However, there may also be issues with traffic patterns on Collyer Lane under the suggested scenario.
Other options open more of a Pandora's box. Turn the existing exit-only lane through the Board of Health property into an enter-only lane where student drivers could then proceed to the back lots along a section of the driveway exit that would have to become two-way traffic at least for a stretch?
That change could prompt Somerset County to require a left-turn lane be constructed on South Finley Avenue for cars heading south, that would want to turn into the high school on the left, Dean said.
And some board members worried allowed that having cars driven by teenaged drivers cut left in front of oncoming traffic might not be a great idea. Just think about it!
Other options had even more complications — although creating a rear driveway loop behind the high school sounds like it would create an alternative traffic pattern, for sure.
What about non-construction ideas? For example, scheduling some seniors to arrive later if they can take their (college) freshman English or History classes at Raritan Valley Community College instead of at Ridge High. The North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School System allowed that option back when I was covering that district as a reporter, and students loved getting a jump on some college credits?
And there's that issue that no one wants to really tackle. There are just TOO many people driving to Ridge in the morning instead of taking the bus. Those parents with kids who want to be driven in the morning so they can have last-minute front-door dropoff at the high school vastly expand the numbers of parents who must chose between driving their students or paying a pretty darn hefty courtesy busing fee. (But RHS Principal Frank Howlett said on Monday that many of those students with free bus seats then are perfectly willing to take the bus home in the afternoon.)
How to encourage more students to take the bus rather than driving or being driven? Do you think that a "blackout period" in which only buses would be allowed into the high school is fair? Or is that unfair since (as board members apparently noted) many parents must drive to school for multiple reasons, including consulting with teachers, dropping off bulky project or sports equipment — or because they can't afford the courtesy busing fee for one or more children at the high school?
What options do you prefer? Do you have any other ideas?
Are you glad that the school seems to have gotten off to a start on getting a handle on the problem?
Let us know in the comments section below.