With the goal of taking initial steps toward providing at least some relief for longstanding traffic jams on mornings when Ridge High School is in session, the Board of Education on Monday agreed to implement a few simple options outlined in a professional traffic study, to include placing traffic stripes and speed-reducing humps in front of the building, as well as retiming the light at the entrance.
Board members reached that consensus after hearing a report lasting about two hours, which outlined a wide range of options for improving traffic flow at the high school and roads leading to the entrance of the high school at Lake Road and South Finley Avenue. The report was presented by traffic consultant Gary Dean of Dolan & Dean, commissioned by the board in March for a fee of $10,700.
Details about those options already were available before the meeting since the consultant's report already is online at the Board of Education website.
Options include diverting bus traffic entering the high school driveway to turn right and to discharge students in parking lot A, near the new gym — an alternative that the board agreed Monday to implement if possible — and a more complicated proposal for turning an exit through the Board of Health property into a one-way entrance for vehicles planning to park in further lots at the school.
The report notes that continuing a system in effect since last February in which Ridge buses drop students near Cedar Hill Elementary School, by a rear entrance to the high school, would be the most "cost effective" solution. However, the report also acknowledged that the school district's administration decision to begin routing Ridge buses to Cedar Hill as of Feb. 1 prompted residents of Homestead Village to repeatedly protest the increase in both cars and buses heading along their streets.
A few dozen people attended the Monday meeting, at least half of them from the Homestead Village neighborhood. The neighbors have said that school buses are creating a hazard on local roads, where students either are walking to Ridge or waiting for a bus to the William Annin Middle School, and that some parents speeding to drop off high schoolers by Cedar Hill nearly ran over some of the neighborhood's children.
In summing up a proposal on which board members could agree, Board President Susan McGowan said she believes that access to the school's back parking lots from a gravel connector road leading from the municipal complex would be the easiest solution to drawing an estimated 260 cars from 621 that one traffic count by the consultant showed as entering the high school that morning.
The Township Committee had previously objected to opening the municipal complex as a route to the high school, with one stated concern that traffic exiting the township property along Collyer Lane also would block access for police and other emergency vehicles.
But the Dolan and Dean report suggests one-way access for drivers who would park in lots C and D in the morning. After a brief period to let school traffic in, the access road — which would require paving — could be blocked with a gate, Dean said at the meeting and in the report.
With the changed proposal, "I would hope they would reconsider," McGowan said of the Township Committee.
McGowan said school officials should try to arrange a meeting with township officials before the next school board meeting in July to determine whether that proposal can be carried out.
School Business Administrator Nick Markarian said that before that time, he will seek information on the cost of striping and installing traffic humps. That meeting is scheduled for July 30, although Markarian said the date may be changed.
Board member William Koch said the details of the different proposals will be further investigated by the school board's facilities committee.
Some of those details will involve the practicalities of the plan to route the bus traffic through Lot A and drop off students to enter through the new gym. Board Member Priti Shah suggested that buses might drop off students in front of the gym, as well as behind, as originally suggested in that report. Dean said that "very good suggestion" should also be looked into as a way of making bus dropoffs more efficient.
Board members also discussed ways of encouraging school bus ridership.
However, the board stopped short last night of actually promising that no more school buses will be routed through Homestead Village as they travel toward Cedar Hill, a request made by some Homestead Village residents.
"It's very clear from the report that there are multiple options you can implement to make the situation better," said Homestead Village resident Jen White. Others urged the board to end what they say is a dangerous situation in their neighborhood.
Christina Ehret, a resident on Peachtree Road, said the township should be involved in solving what is a longstanding problem for commuters as well as school traffic. "Others are waiting to go through that intersection," she said, adding the population may grow in the future more that expected, especially if Millington Quarry is developed with home sites at some point.
Board members, including McGowan, said they will implement the traffic consultant's easiest and least expensive suggestions first, and look into other proposals for more long-term improvements.