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UPDATED: Buses to Drop Ridge Students Behind Cedar Hill

Schools Superintendent says change to begin Wednesday on trial basis to try to alleviate morning traffic at Ridge's entrance off S. Finley Ave.

As of this Wednesday morning, buses are scheduled to begin dropping off students at the rear entrance to the the school, requiring students to walk along a pathway leading from the adjoining off Peachtree Road.

The change in the route is designed to alleviate the traffic backup that each morning occurs on both directions on South Finley Avenue and on Lake Road leading to Ridge High School, which is located at 268 S. Finley Ave. School begins at 7:35 a.m. However, parents and residents have expressed concerns about traffic on local streets and pedestrian safety in Homestead Village, behind the Cedar Hill school, the added inconvenience for students who take the bus instead of driving and about related issues.

"I don't think anyone is happy about the traffic problem, but something needs to be done now and as we [the high school] continue to grow," Ridge High School Principal Frank Howlett said Monday. "A second entrance would be ideal but does not appear to be an option," he said in an email.

"Absent a second entrance to the campus this is the best solution to an almost unbearable problem that exists at the light at the entrance to the school," the high school principal said.

The afternoon departure of buses from the front entrance of the high school will not be affected, he said. He noted that Wednesday is the first day of the next semester. 

Ridge's traffic issues affect many

On Tuesday morning, Superintendent of Schools Valerie Goger said that having only one entrance to Ridge High School limits the school's options for taking steps to alleviate serious traffic concerns.

"No one seems to be happy with this solution, but we have to do something to try to address the volume of cars and buses. It not only affects our students, and parents, and neighbors, it affects everyone trying to get through town in the early morning," Goger said on Tuesday morning.

The school is left with the choice of rerouting the buses to Cedar Hill, or to reroute all of the parents' cars, Goger said. "We cannot reroute the students' or staff's cars, as they park in the lots at Ridge."

The routing of the high school's buses to the parking lot and drive in the rear of the Cedar Hill School—from which students can reach the back of the high school along a paved walkway about 600 feet long—was a dropoff procedure about ten years ago, Howlett said. The routine was "successful," but was discontinued for reasons beyond the high school's control, he said in the email.

"When we rerouted the buses several years ago, it greatly relieved the traffic backup and improved safety in the parking lots at Ridge," Goger said. However, she added that residents on neighboring streets in the Cedar Hill area were very displeased and the township police chief asked the school district to discontinue that routing. "Now, with 600 more students than we had back then, we would like to try it again on a trial basis," Goger said on Tuesday morning.

Howlett said he realized there are many concerns about the new traffic pattern, but, "I have limited scope of authority to come up with a solution." 

In response to a question, he said he receives many calls with complaints about the traffic backups from residents on their way to work.

A letter from Howlett sent home to parents last week stated, "This change will be helpful to the morning traffic on South Finley but is certainly not a cure all. Other measures that parents can take to help with this problem are to put their students on a bus if they are eligible or leaving earlier to drive them to school."

He noted the high school cafeteria provides a good breakfast at a fair price, and many students gather in the cafeteria for some social time before classes.

Patch received two emails stating objections to the change in the dropoff route, including a letter from parents Deborah and Charles Hellings that the residents had sent earlier to Howlett and Nick Markarian, schools business administrator. The Hellings said they had not received a response on Monday.

The letter from the Hellings expressed "extreme disappointment" in the decision to relocate the bus drop off to Cedar Hill.

"Given that the problem is the number of cars dropping off not the buses, it seems counter-intuitive," the letter stated. "Any of the students that are driven to school can take the bus but choose not to. The problem is not a bus dropping off 50 students, it is 50 cars each dropping off one student."

The Hellings said diverting buses to the Cedar Hill School will only encourage more people to drive their students to the high school. 

Currently, Deborah Helling said she drives her children to the bus stop in inclement weather to wait for the bus, and most of her neighbors do the same thing. Now, she said, she will feel it necessary to drive her students to school in heavy rain because she does not want them walking the distance from Cedar Hill to the high school and spending seven hours in wet clothes.

The Hellings said the change will further discourage students from taking the bus since they already get up earlier than students who are driven, wait at the bus stop in the cold and the dark, and would now face the prospect of walking from Cedar Hill.

The Hellings also asked if their students' bus, which picks up students off Lake Road, will continue to cross the light straight from Lake Road into the Ridge High School entrance, or will instead turn right and then drive further to Cedar Hill to discharge the students.

"That will add three to four minutes to the drive, another three to five minutes for the walk depending on where they can enter the building, and then they will need to go to the complete opposite side of the school because they are freshman," the Hellings said.

The Hellings letter also said that while the school buses enter the high school driveway and drop off in an orderly fashion, the vehicles drop off students at multiple locations. "Then add to this chaos, the seniors driving fast, swerving around the stopped cars to get to the student parking lot," the Hellings said. "This is certainly a more dangerous situation."

The Hellings said the school district should be encouraging people to use the bus, not drive.

The longterm solution to the problem is to add an entrance to the school from the municipal building for students and faculty to get to the parking lots, the Hellings suggested, urging that cars be sent over to Cedar Hill instead of the buses.

In his email earlier on Monday, Howlett had twice reiterated that a second entrance would be the ideal solution to alleviating the traffic.

Patch will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.

fram stanley January 31, 2012 at 06:57 AM
Dear Bernards BOE: "The routine was "successful,"but was discontinued... If it were so successful, please inform the public the reasons why it stopped. We are revisiting an issue ongoing through the years in this neighborhood. We walked,we drove, we paid for busing due to"how the crow flies". We did what it took. Fast forward.My children are RHS alumni now. There are many young walkers on narrow, some lacking sidewalks, roads in this neighborhood. The amount of traffic exiting Winding Lane is at times enormous at school time, coincidental with everyday travel. At times it may be 10+ minutes (yes, I have clocked it) to advance OUT of Winding Lane whether turning left or right.The outcome is usually decided depending on the traffic situation AND therefore,impacting the decision to take 287 or 78.We may find it necessary to exit via Woodstone, driving "around the outside". It's great that the(township)is trying to alleviate traffic to the High School. Yet, it appears to be a double edged sword. HOW was this decision made, considering potential mind-boggling traffic in Homestead Village? Is it the answer? I do not have the necessary information to know what the correct solution to this problem is but I surely question whether enough evaluation was implemented. Please consider a possible two week test run. The decision could affect our children's safety as well as our travels. MAY WE LEARN FROM PAST DECISIONS TO AVOID POSSIBLE FUTURE ERRORS? Fran Stanley Winding Lane
SZ January 31, 2012 at 12:15 PM
This has been a problem for years that keeps getting worse. It impacts everyone in the town that has to go anywhere near the high school in the morning. It's time to focus the efforts on real solutions. Was this a knee jerk decision or did someone take the time to evaluate this thoroughly? Can someone provide the analysis that supports this decision? Logically, I can't see how this is going to solve the issue of too many cars going in/out with only one entrance/exit.
Christina Ehret January 31, 2012 at 12:25 PM
This district spends over $5 million on transportation. This is an unavoidable expense as the state mandates that the district provide a bus to all students who live 2.5 miles away from the high school. Why is it okay for the buses to run partially empty? What an incredible waste of money. Outside of getting the state to revoke this mandate or allow students to waive out of the bus program we have one option. Get all students who qualify for the bus on the bus. As a Homestead resident I agree with every potential safety issue outlined by Fran Stanley. As a Cedar Hill parent I add that these buses will be arriving at the same time parents will be dropping children off for the before care program. With only one entrance and exit to Cedar Hill all parents dropping students off at the elementary school from 7:00-7:30 will be affected. Rerouting the buses to Cedar Hill may have been the easiest decision but the easiest decision isn't always the best decision. This proposal isn't a sound short term plan nor a viable long term solution. The only solution is to reduce the traffic going into Ridge by getting all students who qualify for the bus on the bus. We are all paying for it anyway.
j January 31, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Thank you Deb, Fran and SZ. You read my mind! One entrance and "two" exits, one of which is only for a very small portion of the traffic turning right? All those engineers and architects working on multiple additions for the buildings and parking lots, and NO ONE thought about getting in and out??? An "emergency vehicle" road through the municipal parking lot? Really, what was anyone thinking??? A building housing that many people needs multiple entrances and exits for safety let alone simple daily traffic flow. Multiple buses running through a small dense neighborhood? You have got to be kidding? Dropping my kids off, so they can now walk on both ends of their bus route, to the bus and from the bus? Now I, too, will be driving my kids across town to ADD to the CAR TRAFFIC! Seriously!? I think you have just created a MUCH BIGGER problem!
HG January 31, 2012 at 04:37 PM
I remember this being studied during the high school expansion. I think that a road to Maple Avenue would have cost 1-2 million dollars due to the nature of the geology. Others suggested a road going through the municipal complex, but that's also the road that the police vehicles use. If you take a look around the police station, you can see that an alternative exit would also cost big bucks. Some suggested that fields on Maple Avenue be used for a new high school. I don't know if that would have solved the traffic, but apparently we didn't have enough land anyway. The suggestion of linking Cedar Hill and Ridge has never been terribly popular in Homestead Village, and rightfully so. Well, that seems to cover the other three sides. By the way, the total spending on "transportation" for the whole district, including all grade levels and special education and any vehicles paid for by the distrcit, is $5mm. I don't think that includes the payments that we get from parents who are within the 2.5 radius and any aid that we receive for transportation. I'd really like to get a budget from the BOE than the vague "budget presentation" that they provide on their website.
Lori February 01, 2012 at 03:13 AM
This is similar to the morning traffic congestion on Church Road (Liberty Corner School), and then Somerville Road extension was built at a cost of over $1m. so that people could avoid the school traffic. Canterbury Estates now deals with speeding cars going through a quiet neighborhood.
Scott Guibord February 01, 2012 at 07:48 PM
1) Neither Valerie Goger (Superintendent) nor Frank Howlett (Principal) have any authority to re-route Ridge High School busing to the Cedar Hill School. The bus re-routing is initially a matter for the Board of Education, and any decision would first require a main road (Lake and Finley) and arterial road (Homestead Village) traffic volume, pattern and safety study, and a student safety study. 2) The re-routing of Ridge High School bus traffic to the Cedar Hill School is subject to the municipal police power of the governing body and police department, and their review (if not approval) would be required to authorize the use of the Cedar Hill School as a daily drop-off (or origination) point for non-Cedar Hill School students, for this would result in additional Municipal expenses due to the heightened traffic control and pedestrian safety measures (the only sidewalk is an isolated one on Peachtree Road). 3) Under Municipal Land Use law, schools cannot conduct uses on their premises that are not principle or accessory to that school, which simply means that the Cedar Hill School cannot serve as a delivery (or pick-up) point for Ridge High School students. The high school busing serves a wholly unrelated off-site condition at a school that has nothing to do with the Cedar Hill School. The use of the Cedar Hill site as a termination (or origination) point for Ridge High School busing through Homestead Village will require a use variance from the Board of Adjustment. Scott
Heather Hudson February 02, 2012 at 02:51 AM
High School Traffic is a major problem all across NJ. Bridgewater High School charges the students $100 per parking spot. That still doesn't provide enough space. The YMCA across from the High School charges the students $280 per parking space and there is a waiting list for the YMCA parking. Does Ridge have any charge for student parking? How much money is spent for each High School student who gets busing free of charge? H.
NL February 02, 2012 at 08:38 PM
This is to "n"...your child obviously does not take the bus. We live 6 miles away from the school so it is totally not feasible for our kids to walk. You may be right that a six mile walk will not kill them but this is certainly something I do not want my child to do everyday. This is not a matter of more or less bus stops either. I do agree that many buses are not full and that kids that qualify to take the bus should do so. Re-routing the buses is definately not a solution to the problem.
HG February 03, 2012 at 04:15 PM
N, while I sympathize with your sentiments, as someone who has actually tried carpooling with neighbors, you quickly discover that with all of the practices and activities before and after school, it's nearly impossible to make a schedule that works. That's why you see more carpooling at the elementary and middle school levels than at the high school level. On the other hand, it IS possible to make pick up and drop off work. Mere yards away from the high school complex is Saint James School. You'll notice that there aren't a lot of complaints about Saint James because there are few to voice. The key features of Saint James' pick up after school are: an entrance and a separate exit AND controlled release of the students. Forcing parents to pick up students in an orderly fashion tames the chaos. (You must stay in your car. You must wait your turn and pick up your child at the designated spot. No parking and jumping out of the car to pick up your child, etc.)
LCB@home February 04, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Why is it that the access road between the town hall and the Ridge HS PAC is not utilized for buses? There would be no back up, except perhaps on Collyer Lane as the buses enter - they could exit at the regular Ridge exit - or exit the same way - via the Town Hall. Has the Board of Ed approached the Township Committee, Town Hall Administrators, and the Police department to request a review of this option? Buses could come up S. Maple, turn on Collyer and enter town hall - drop at the PAC and then exit in the same way or via the main exit at Ridge. No traffic whatsoever on Finley. Also - why is it that we are not rallying Trenton regarding these bussing rules that are costing us a fortune! If we can't alter the route and the number of passengers, then why on earth can't we do something about the exhorbitant cost of sending ONE child on the bus! Imagine three or four from the same family? Last I checked the cost was almost $700 per student, with those more than a mile and a half away going for free - can't that even out a bit? Just some considerations.
Scott Guibord February 05, 2012 at 12:40 AM
LCB@home The solution is exactly as you suggest. A properly designed and constructed road (must be designed to handle the heavy buses and traffic volume) between the Municipal Complex and the Ridge High School parking lot. The issue I think is that the Board of Education does not want to pay for it; and the Township Committee does not want the Township to pay for it. But in the end, we taxpayers will pay for it, for it will either be recovered through the Municipal Budget or the Board of Education Budget, which is passed on to us through taxes. So you are right. What are they waiting for?
HG February 05, 2012 at 01:26 AM
My recollection is that when this was considered, the police strongly objected. The police need an unobstructed entrance and exit 24/7.
Scott Guibord February 05, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Delete Scott Guibord (64 Woodstone Road) 8:43 pm on Saturday, February 4, 2012 Hg. That's why we propose that the road to the Ridge High School parking lot be one way from the Municipal Complex. No return trips. There will always be unobstructed access and egress to the Police Station, as the road into the Municipal complex forks left toward the Police Station, and forks right toward the Municipal Building, which would be the Ridge High School access road. The fact that those two roads connect behind the Municipal Complex is irrelevant. Go up there and see what I am talking about. Reply

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