Sunday, August 29, 2010

LETTER: Inadequate bus transportation brings 1500+ vehicles to Education Hill each morning

By Susan Wilkins, LWSD parent and volunteer

It’s great to live on Education Hill during the summer – school is out and kids get to sleep in, the baseball fields are busy, the view of the Cascades is awesome, and morning traffic on Education Hill is nearly non-existent. But the day that school starts, this year on September 1st, is the day that our snarling traffic will return. Obviously, our schools are the source of our traffic, with so many kids being dropped off by their parents and the high school students driving themselves to school. Also, don’t forget that the schools have almost 200 full-time employees. Understanding how many cars are coming and going and which schools are generating traffic can help us figure out how to fix it.
TRAFFIC BY THE NUMBERS (a little boring, but count along….)
Redmond High School has 1440 students and a staff of 120 who start arriving from all directions in their cars shortly before 7:00AM. Only 230 students ride the bus to school, the rest arrive in cars, either by driving and parking or being dropped off by a parent. Redmond High School attracts nearly 900 cars to the neighborhood between 7:00 and 7:30 AM each weekday morning. As a comparison, this exceeds peak hourly traffic at Costco which attracts about 700 cars per hour.*

Redmond Junior High has 850 students and about 70 staff members. During traffic counts in May, nearly 400 cars dropped off students between 7:25 and 7:50 AM. More than HALF the students at RJH arrived at school in private vehicles. RJH also had 5 buses that dropped off 215 students.

Horace Mann Elementary had 470 students and a staff of about 40. On a typical morning 180 cars dropped off students in the parking lot and another 60 dropped off students at various outer streets, a total of 240 vehicles. Mann had one bus that dropped off 12 Redmond Elementary transfer students.

With 3000 students and staff arriving at 3 schools in 1500+ vehicles, we have a huge traffic mess that's not going to be fixed by telling people to “walk to school”.  So, will the school district and the City of Redmond stop telling us that this will solve our traffic problem?  Read More.........

We have all tried walking and it is not practical for most families. One radius mile from the school can translate into a 1.5 mile walk, sometimes with an elevation gain of 200-300 feet. Elementary students can’t safely cross the street by themselves so they have to be accompanied by an adult – often an unrealistic time expectation especially for families with toddlers and infants. Junior high students have to sacrifice 30-40 minutes of their most productive morning sleep time in order to walk a mile and a half. So we all put our kids in the car and drive them to school. The 650 car trips driving 350 students to Horace Mann Elementary (a “walking school”) and 450 students to RJH each morning translates to at least 250,000 miles driven in a year by parents. It can be inferred that all of these students who are arriving in cars live less than 1 radius mile from school, otherwise they would be on LWSD school buses.

Elementary and junior high students are the ideal group for mass transportation: they can’t drive cars, they’re all arriving at and leaving the same location at the same time, and they all live in a limited geographic location. Adding 3-5 buses to Education Hill that make multiple pick-ups and drop-offs all within a 1-mile radius of the schools would eliminate a lot of the school traffic that we now have.

How to pay for the buses? The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) already pays the Lake Washington School District a flat transportation reimbursement of $62.00 per student in grades K-5 who lives closer than 1 radius mile from school.** This translates into about $26,000 for Horace Mann students and this money could and should be used to fund busing.

Currently the state doesn’t reimburse school districts for transporting junior high or high school students who live less than 1 radius mile from school. The Lake Washington School District doesn’t have any money set aside to provide bus service for students at Redmond Junior High even though it’s clear that close-in busing would eliminate most of the 400 vehicles drop-offs each morning. (Relatively few students are picked up after school; most who were driven in the morning walk home or do after-school activities or sports and would not need an afternoon bus.) How schools are reimbursed for transportation is decided by the legislature – so they need to think about changing the law and creating a new plan that reimburses school districts when they transport students who live within the 1-mile radius. It would significantly reduce junior and senior high traffic on Education Hill. In fact, many schools in the district and across the state are burdened by parent traffic from families that live less than a mile from their school and are driving their children to school.

As a parent, I am already spending a lot of time and gas money driving my children to school each morning and I find the relentless, chaotic traffic at RHS, RJH and Horace Mann stressful and intimidating, so I would be willing to pay to supplement the cost of school bus service. Maybe the City of Redmond should agree to fund school bus service for Redmond Junior High School students who live within the 1-mile radius from the school but are currently being driven to school, both as an experiment to see how much traffic is reduced, and also as a short-term fix to the dangerous traffic conditions they created with their 4-to-3 lane conversion on 166th Avenue NE. Does anyone have any other ideas for funding extra buses?

I find it penny wise and pound foolish that we will spend $16 billion tax dollars building light rail that many of us will rarely ride, but we won’t spend a few thousand dollars to bus our children about a mile and a half to school 180 days each year.

*See Costco Wholesale Trip Generation and Pass-by Rate Study 9/2007 submitted to Redmond Planning Department for the proposed Costco Site on Union Hill Road, Redmond. Peak hourly In/Out rate: 653/585.

**OSPI website Transportation Allocation for LWSD Form 1026-A Schedule E, Line J for allocation calculation ($48.29/student X 1.29 Load Factor = $62.27 per K-5 student- Horace Mann had 413 K-5 students in 2009-2010: $62.27 X 413 = $25,717.51)

By Susan Wilkins
LWSD parent and PTSA volunteer
Photo by Yoder - during 4:3 lane conversion construction, 2009


Anonymous said...

What proportion of the population lives within the 1 mile radius?

Given the volume of students driving or being dropped off (1500+ out of 3000 is more than half), it seems many vehicles are coming from further than a mile away, meaning many likely had bus access. If they aren't riding the bus now, I would worry that they wouldn't ride any new bus either.

Is the Metro 221 used? It looks like it serves the close in area pretty well. It may cut it close coming from the north, dropping kids off at 7:45 for a 7:50 start time, but from the south there is plenty of time.

When there were 4 lanes, I guess I don't know how northbound traffic turning left across two lanes of southbound traffic was better than the current situation, where left turning vehicles are pulled out of the northbound through lane, and only have to cross one southbound lane. An overload of traffic creates conflicts in both road configurations, but conflicts seem a lot worse with 4 through lanes and turning vehicles.

I remember walking a mile to elementary school when I was a kid. But it was fairly flat, and I guess it was safer then because there wasn't a huge rush of vehicles with parents dropping their kids off.

Anonymous said...

Susan, I don't disagree with your numbers or the basic principle that you are putting forward - to find means to use some form of mass transportation for getting kids to/from school. What I don't understand is why you think this is a City o...f Redmond problem to solve. It is a School District problem and one that many have approached in King County by approaching either private carriers or public carriers to supplement service in the area. When I was in HS in Riverside in the late 60's I lived inside the non-bus (non-school bus) but the school and the PTSA at the time coordinated a contract with a private carrier (Roasch Bus Lines) to provide "yellow" school bus service for a monthly fee. At the time I was a sophomore I paid a monthly fee to the bus company to ride their school bus (remember, this is a private carrier - the equivalent here and now would be someone like Ryder or Veolia) to look at the service area, based on the clientele asking for the service, and then they generated a route and a daily fee for the service. Personally, I would not want elementary kids on anything less than a school bus with a school bus credentialed driver). The Service Planners at KC Metro would be the resource to discuss what existing service could be adjusted to better serve the Jr High and HS. Contact me via FB email and I'll let you know the names and contact information for those at KC Metro responsible for service planning but in these days of declining revenue for KC Metro, ADDING service is not likely. Adjusting the schedules to better match school start times would be workable though. Finally, carpooling is an option and one that Horace Mann specifically could make better use of since the boundaries of their school is within the walking zone. Creating some kind of carpool resource at the school's web site..... OR, and this might be something that the City of Redmond COULD help with, is using their online vanpool sharing site to include school transportation.
Good thoughtful piece ---- let's keep "talking" because it isn't JUST about congestion - it's about safety and reducing our impact on mother earth that is also up for discussion.
By Sue S.

Anonymous said...

This is an extremely insightful and revealing analysis of the comparative traffic levels between the Ed Hill schools and businesses whose development is regulated for the same reasons.

I urge the City in partnership with LWSD to think proactively about addressing this issue. There is a significant impact on productivity for those trying to get to jobs to pay the taxes for the same school and city, together with the outrageous environmental impact of these "nonplans". I would love to see this story picked up by the Redmond Reporter and other community voices.

From: Sitting on 104th, 20 minutes every morning.