Traffic jams at school zones

Hollister district looking for ways to ease long lines mornings and afternoons

Student pickup time at R.O. Hardin Elementary Nov. 3.

Traffic and parking problems at three local grade schools during student dropoff and pickup times have persisted this school year, increasing safety risks, Hollister School District staff warned last week.

Underdeveloped roads surrounding Gabilan Hills/Hollister Dual Language Academy, Calaveras/Accelerated Achievement Academy and R.O. Hardin/Hollister Prep School “do not provide safe routes for pedestrians and adequate on-street parking,” according to a Nov. 27 staff report presented to the HSD Board of Education.

The number of cars, along with enrollment swollen by two school programs at each campus, prompted the school board in September to ask district staff to conduct a traffic safety assessment at the three schools.

“As long as you have schools, there will be traffic issues twice a day, so we have to accept that,” said Trustee Robert Bernosky, who added that he experienced the congestion when his own three children attended local public schools.

“The other part that is somewhat unique to San Benito County is we build schools along roads that don’t have sidewalks, for example, or traffic mitigation measures that you’d typically expect to see,” he added.

That has left district and school staffs in a tough spot as far as finding a quick resolution.

Incoming trustee Carla Deluna-Torres, who won a school board seat in the Nov. 5 election, has experienced the traffic issues firsthand as a parent of two students who attend Hollister Dual Language Academy.

“It did get worse this year. …The traffic and the way the set-up is (for dropoff/pickup) doesn’t make it easy for us,” said Deluna-Torres, who hopes to discuss the issue with city officials once she joins the board. “I know there’s a concern. It’s on our radar. We just need to find other options.”

According to staff, the traffic congestion worsens at the end of the school day when parents arrive to pick up their children. Common reasons identified for this were: parents arriving 30 to 45 minutes before dismissal; vehicles blocking access to school parking lot and traffic on roadways adjacent to school sites; and parking illegally and violating traffic laws.

“The site administrators have and continue to work and communicate with the parents/guardians/care-providers to improve conditions and safety for students and staff,” according to the staff report.

Other factors include school parking lots not large enough to accommodate the number of vehicles, limited street parking and sidewalks on roadways adjacent to schools and not enough staff to effectively assist in traffic flow during the dropoff and pickup times.

“It’s a twice-a-day problem, and we will do what we can to mitigate it as much as we can, but the problem will never fully go away,” Bernosky said. “If there is a solution where we can use parents and other volunteers, that would be fantastic.”

According to Bernosky, the teachers union “does not want to be involved” and “everyone is saying it is somebody else’s problem,” which has led to little movement in alleviating the issue.

“We asked (staff) to come back with solutions we can act on opposed to us figuring it out,” Bernosky said.

Staff did present a number of corrective measures listed at three priority levels at the board meeting. Those included reviewing school start and end times sending home informational mailers and an “all-call reminder” addressing dropoff and pickup procedures and safety, hosting a parent meeting and getting the student resource officer to closely monitor traffic at those times.

“One fix at Calaveras would be to not allow cars to turn left when they leave the school,” suggested principal Ken Woods.

Other district proposals were to hire additional staff to assist with operations, close the school lots until dismissal time, designate more dropoff/pickup locations at sites, introduce a walking/school bus program, work with the city and county to regulate on-street parking, increase busing and make road improvements.

“Many of the suggestions are fairly easy to implement, while others may need more time, coordination and collaboration with other entities/agencies,” according to the staff report.

School staff and board members will revisit the issue at a future school board meeting. Bernosky said, “I’m committed to doing whatever is necessary to alleviate the problem if it can be alleviated.”

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