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Moms Talk: What's Your Thoughts on RHS Traffic Options?

School officials moving ahead with most simple ideas for relieving morning traffic at Ridge HS, but beyond that, there's less agreement.

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 . 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

Following a , 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.

Andi Williams June 28, 2012 at 06:08 PM
It seems very strange to many residents in Homestead Village that the same traffic consultants were used as the last time when no successful solution was implemented (well, that's obvious...); do you rehire a contractor after they mess up the first time..? Hopefully, that will not be the case again. Anyway, whatever the final solution ends up being, it cannot and will not be keeping the buses routing through Homestead Village. We moved into the neighborhood accepting traffic for one school - not for two schools with a massive combined population, just so that badly planned and mismanaged administration can check off a dangerous situation as solved.
Emily Benjamin June 28, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Two Suggestions for New Ridge HS Traffic Patterns: 1) Why not institute staggered school schedules where first period begins for some at 8 a.m. and for others at 9 a.m. and for others at 10 a.m.? The school day would end at three different times as well. This would reduce the number of students arriving at one time in the morning. When I attended a Queens, NY high school as a sophomore, my first period began at 10:15 and my last period ended 5:15. After-school activities would need to be adjusted, especially sports practices, games and meets. 2) Why not use the town's Health Department land area to create more entrances and exits from both directions into the high school parking lot? The Health Department offices can relocate to a newer office building where the old Base Camp store at 44 South Finley Ave. once operated. 3) The DOT and the Environmental Commission along with the school administration need to establish caps on the number of cars allowed during the morning commute - both student drivers who park, and parent drop-offs. Our town streets cannot accommodate growth and limitations must be instituted. Students should be required to establish full car pools among their friends and neighbors and show proof. Only parking stickers should be given to those who car pool. No single student commuters allowed. Enforcement is towing the car and a fine for breaking the rule.
Linda Sadlouskos (Editor) June 29, 2012 at 12:05 AM
I don't know if residents would agree with all of Emily's suggestions _ who wants to give up the lovely historic health dept. building? — but the point seems to be well taken that by experimenting with such completely non-construction solutions as scheduling and rewarding car poolers you might be able to get some sort of improvement for virtually no cost.
Emily Benjamin July 04, 2012 at 09:56 PM
I didn't know the health dept. building was historic. Does that mean it's an historic landmark? What's the story behind the building? My feeling in this case is that we need to make room for the future and solve today's problems (which are years old) now. If the solution requires eliminating one small building then I'm for it; that's called progress - giving up a bit of the past to embrace the future and Basking RIdge is long overdue on a solution because of this holding on to the past. We need radical changes that start by building new entrances to Ridge HS on the land adjacent to the Health Department building. Our town has no reservations when it comes to allowing construction of new homes and chopping down old trees to build vehicle entrances to new subdivisions. Readers, let's discuss this and my suggestions from June 28 - after the fireworks!!

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