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.