Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Letter about traffic at Redmond Middle School - Updated with new comments


By Susan Wilkins
The Redmond Municipal Code states:
10.52.145 Fire lanes.
(a) Fire Lane Parking Prohibited.
(1) No person shall stop, stand or park a vehicle or maintain any obstruction within any fire lane.
The drop-off lanes in the two parking lots in front of Redmond Middle School are designated FIRE LANES so it is illegal for parents to pull into the lanes and drop off their students or to wait for them at the end of school.
The pick-up/drop-off lanes in the RMS parking lots were improperly designed when the school was rebuilt in 2002 but the Redmond Police and Fire Departments never made an issue of the defect or required the school district to fix it. I wrote a letter to the City of Redmond Police Department last fall 2012 asking them to address the Fire Lane violations at the front of Redmond Middle School. Greg Palmer who does Traffic Calming for the City phoned me to discuss the issue. Basically he said that the City wasn’t going to do anything about it because it had been that way for so long. He also said – and this is significant - that nobody had complained about it. I noted that I had just filed a complaint and that was why he was calling me! Apparently, one complaint isn’t enough. So everybody, call or email and COMPLAIN to the City of Redmond. Tell them to fix the traffic mess at Redmond Middle School !!!
SHORT TERM SOLUTION: The school already has a driveway that leads from the south parking lot and wraps around the back of the building where the busses drop off students. Parents could drive around the back and drop off students without obstructing the fire lanes. The school district should also hire certified traffic flaggers to direct traffic in and out of the parking lot driveways and onto the streets (like they do at Rosa Parks Elementary.) 
LONG TERM SOLUTION: The City of Redmond should require the school district to redesign their parking lot and entrance/exit configuration so that parents are not using the fire lanes for pick-up and drop off. The redesign should also accommodate the 400+ cars that pass through the school’s lot every morning so that back-ups don’t cause total obstruction and traffic chaos on 166th Avenue NE and NE 104th Street. Redmond Middle School is located on a 24-acre parcel with the school building squeezed onto the northeast corner of the lot. There is plenty of extra space on the property to relocate entrances/exits, driveways, drop-off zones and parking lots.
Two years ago I posted a video of the typical driving antics that occur at RMS/RJH every morning. You can view it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4a4aG05O44. We wouldn’t tolerate traffic like this from a WalMart, would we?
A more important question to ask is why are so many students being driven to school every morning? Where are all the Lake Washington School District buses? If the school district provided quality, efficient bus service to the outlying neighborhoods along NE 116thStreet to the north, along NE 104th Street to the east and along 166thAvenue NE down the hill to the south, car traffic through the parking lots would be significantly reduced. It used to be that students had to live more than 1 radius-mile from the school to be eligible for school bus transportation, but in September 2011, the Legislature changed the bussing formula and any student who has to walk more than a mile along existing streets became eligible for bus transportation. The LWSD Transportation website still says that students must live outside a 1-mile radius in order to be eligible for bus transportation. The school district needs to wake up and read the RCW (28A.160.160) and start providing bus service to students who are eligible under the new 1-mile walk route guidelines and not under the old 1-mile radius rule!!!
Even if the school district adds more bus transportation to Redmond Middle School and reduces the traffic backups on 166thAvenue and 104th Street, the practice of using the fire lanes as drop-off and pick-up lanes is illegal and needs to stop. Someday there is going to be an emergency at RMS or at a nearby residence and the fire trucks and ambulances will not be able to get through in time.
Please take a moment and contact the City of Redmond and tell them to fix the Redmond Middle School traffic problems. Contacts are listed below.
Mayor John Marchione: mayor@redmond.gov
Redmond City Council Members: council@redmond.gov
Redmond Traffic: https://www.redmond.gov/PublicSafety/Police/traffic_concern_form/
By Susan Wilkins


Anonymous said...

This will also be a problem with Rose Hill.

Anonymous said...

The traffic from the schools on Education Hill is just plain lousy and disorganized. My husband was hit (while riding his motorcycle) by a student driver who was making a left turn into the high school. The student said he was tired.

Unfortunately, the solutions you suggest would mean increased property taxes for us homeowners.
*Certified traffic flaggers $
*Redesign the parking lot $
*More busses $

I can't comprehend why there are many students who don't take advantage of the exercise by walking to school. Silly that the schools host a "walk to school day"...a sign of the times I suppose. It should be expected that you walk to school unless you are bussed in from another (far away) district. I think we just encourage laziness in this society.

And yes, I walked 1.5 miles (each direction) to school as a child. I actually mapped it on Bing to make sure I was correct. ;-)


Anonymous said...

RCW 46.04.381
Park or parking.

"Park or parking" means the standing of a vehicle, whether occupied or not, otherwise than temporarily for the purpose of and while actually engaged in loading or unloading property or passengers.

[1975 c 62 § 9.]

As long as the driver remains in the vehicle prepared to drive away, as directed by signage at the school, I see no violation. RFD reviewed and considered this use with the school.

Jeff Palmer, City of Redmond Traffic Calming Coord. said...

Dear Ms. Wilkins,

On behalf of the City of Redmond and the elected officials to whom you addressed, I thank you for your letter and blog posting expressing your concerns regarding traffic at and near Redmond Middle School (RMS). We understand your concerns, and appreciate your interest in traffic safety.

Our community benefits when parents make the choice have their children walk to and from their local neighborhood school. The City of Redmond prefers that all children who are able to walk to school actually walk to school. It reduces congestion, and contributes to traffic safety. There are a myriad of societal reasons why that doesn’t happen as frequently as we would like. For the brief period when commuter traffic and school traffic overlap there is a temporary spike in congestion on Education Hill. Fortunately it is a short lived event that while frustrating, does not rise to a level that would warrant most of the actions which you have recommended.

With thousands of laws on the books, it’s unlikely that any one of us completes a day without at least one technical violation of a law. Every driver that travels one mile an hour over the posted speed limit, for even a moment, is technically a lawbreaker. At times we have to weigh whether a minor violation of the law is so egregious or high-risk, when compared to the needs of the community, as to warrant devoting scarce economic resources toward strict enforcement or to require major changes to a site. In this particular case, the recommended change does not appear warranted. Temporary pick-up and drop-off activity in the fire lane is not a phenomenon limited to Redmond Middle School. It occurs to some degree at just about every school, theatre, day-care center, shopping- center, and home improvement store in heavily populated communities. Redmond Middle School is a modern facility that provides emergency services access from multiple sides of the building via multiple driveways. Emergency responders have many options for accessing this facility – even during these periods of congestion. Signs instruct drivers to stay in their vehicle, to help ensure that drivers can quickly exit the area should the need arise. Where police officers observe a problem in fire zones they have the discretionary authority to issue the citations you would like written.

The video linked to your blog letter, purporting to depict driver antics and chaos, actually shows the opposite. It shows a congested but relatively smooth functioning interaction of vehicles between the school driveways and the city street. In the AM peak hour the traffic on 166 Avenue NE near the school is approximately 960 vehicles each day (4,800 vehicles per week, or 864,000 vehicles in one - 180 day school year). In the last three year period there has been only one reported collision at any of the three driveways serving the school – and that collision occurred not during the morning commute, but rather mid-day, and was caused by a driver ignoring the posted sign that prohibits left turns out of the northern parking lot. This is an excellent record of safety that reflects the investment the City has made to promote traffic safety on Education Hill, rather than a state of neglect which you have indicated. (END OF PART ONE)

Jeff Palmer, City of Redmond Traffic Calming Coord. said...

PART TWO (Jeff Palmer)

Most every school in Redmond experiences daily periods of congestion. Unfortunately, retrofitting schools to provide on-site paved area sufficient to meet the demand of all the parents who want to drive their children to school with ease and efficiency, competes against other community demands for things like recreation space, and is most often prevented by land use restrictions and regulations pertaining to lot coverage, retainage of open-space, natural areas, natural drainage, and set-backs from adjacent properties. The current yellow school bus pick-up/drop-off zone at the rear of the RMS building was designed specifically to create a safe and efficient place for that activity separated from the general public. Displacing or inter-mixing that zone with private automobiles would create a different and perhaps greater safety hazard for children. The city does not support that recommendation, and my understanding from speaking to the school district risk manager is that they feel the same as the city.

I agree with you that schools in Redmond could gain some efficiency from hiring certified flaggers to direct traffic in their parking lots during congested periods, sporting events, graduations and similar activities. Fortunately, we know from experience that despite the congestion, these activities typically take place safely and without collisions. As you have indicated, many things are beyond the control of the City of Redmond. Decisions concerning the hiring of on-site flaggers, the expansion of school bus routes, or having children ride METRO transit, all reside with the school district. The district would be the party to contact METRO with requests for additional service to schools, or for route changes.

The commute trip reduction program you mentioned is based on state law and applies to companies that have 100 or more employees who arrive to work between six and nine AM. Digipen, Redmond High, Redmond Junior High, the LWSD Resource Center and Audubon Elementary each have transportation management programs to implement. Parents picking-up or dropping-off students are not employees of the facility, so are not covered by the requirements set forth in state law or city policies.

No one person or department has authority over the Redmond Middle School site, and there is no “Education Hill school traffic project.” Where safety is concerned, the city is an active partner with the school district. Because a request to make changes on the RMS site would need to come from the Lake Washington School District, its best that you present your additional ideas to mitigate school generated traffic to the local PTSA at Redmond Middle School where they can be evaluated. If they become a school district proposal, as I stated earlier, the City will be ready to discuss how they fit as a solution. Again thank you for expressing your concerns.

Jeff Palmer
Neighborhood Traffic Calming Coordinator
City of Redmond, Public Works
Traffic Operations, Safety, and Engineering

Susan Wilkins said...

We have an acute traffic problem on Education Hill at Redmond Middle School that the city and school district have created and that they refuse to accept responsibility for. It’s just too easy to blame bad students for not walking to school and bad parents for driving them and creating the traffic jams. The City of Redmond does have the authority to tell the school district to fix the traffic mess but they are just lazy and complacent.

During July and August when school is on summer break, the traffic on 166th Avenue NE in front of RMS is acceptable, so it is obvious that the school being in session is solely to blame for our traffic woes. I suggested that the City enforce the fire lane restriction as a way to get the school district to redesign its parking lots to handle the traffic jams created by the 400-500 cars that the school attracts each morning. (Or maybe being required to redesign the parking lot might have motivated LWSD to provide more than 6 buses for the 970 students at RMS.) The response from the City of Redmond that everybody breaks laws so the City will just ignore the fire lane violations at Redmond Middle School is eye-opening. Could the City post a list of laws that it’s OK to ignore? I’d like to know. (And let me mention that the Redmond Police motorcycle officer who routinely follows drivers into the RMS parking lots and obstructs traffic in the fire lanes is not helping the traffic mess. Could Jeff Palmer please tell him that there haven’t been any accidents at RMS in the past 3 years so he can go somewhere else?)

Way back in October 2009, I wrote about how the school district redesigned the bus route that served East Education Hill and rerouted it along Avondale, through downtown Redmond and then up 166th Avenue NE. That bus route used to be packed with East Education Hill students because it was fast and convenient. Since the change, almost nobody from East Education Hill rides the bus to Redmond Middle School – all kids are driven to school by their parents. The school district’s attitude was that they would provide a bus for students to ride and if students didn’t ride – so what. Never mind that the route was poorly planned – if students didn’t ride, tough luck. Over the years I have suggested many, many routes that could be improved by rerouting and rescheduling. I have lots of emails, route schedules and even maps, but the district wasn’t interested in efficient transportation planning. I even offered to form bus transportation committees and to look for funding to supplement the bus routes. And, yes, I even asked them to contact Metro to coordinate bus transportation.

The school district’s lack of efficient bus transportation is the source of the traffic at Redmond Middle School, but the City of Redmond is their enabler. Sure, we’d all love to drop our kids off at 8:01 AM right after the morning rush dies down, but the school district will quickly file a truancy report with the State. So the school district creates a traffic mess and then forces us to sit in their traffic mess and the City of Redmond watches it all and says that it won’t do anything about it. Ok, I get it – we’re #@$!%. Ditto for RHS and Horace Mann. Maybe we should just rename this place Education Hell.