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Traffic Around the Schools is No-Win for the Environment and the Kids

Do your kids walk to school? My recent traffic revelation at Harriton High School has me thinking...

As you read my blogs over time, you will find a common theme - walking, biking, or using some other form of nonvehicular transport to get around the township. Last week, I wrote about "Pints for the Park," a very successful (thanks everyone!) event for at in Ardmore.  Linwood Park is generally a park people walk to.  The event at Brownie's was an event many people, even Sam and Mary Jane Quinn of Narberth, walked to. Hopefully, many people walked home after having had a few "pints for the park." 

Now, on the eve of the last day of school for Lower Merion public schools, I am writing about walking to school.  Most of us in Ardmore can't walk to school. We are bused to elementary, middle, and now, high school.  Well, we could physically walk to school, but there are no sidewalks around the schools that half of South Ardmore goes to (Penn Valley, Welsh Valley, and Harriton - I have a child at each) so it would be dangerous and very time consuming at 7:00 in the morning.

My son goes to Harriton High School.  He has to go there and not , which we can easily walk to, because our area of South Ardmore lost choice in redistricting a few years ago. There is a whole other story behind that, but for now let me stick to this story.  

Last week, my son missed the morning bus to school. He is finishing his sophmore year and has only missed the bus a handful of times over the past two years, so I don't get too upset as we climb into the car and set off across the Township to Harriton. I am still wearing my glasses, slippers, and have not had coffee yet. Still, I am not upset.

Ten to fifteen minutes later we get to the intersection of Old Gulph Rd. and North Ithan Ave. ( I know, where?). Harriton is on N. Ithan.  As soon as I turn the corner, I am in a line of traffic that extends to the driveway at Harriton and snakes up the drive, through the parking lot, to the student drop off point. Really, I can't believe it.  My son informs me that it is like this every morning. Every morning for 180 days there is a line of vehicles -  very few Priuses I must say, think Lexus SUV - idling as they wait in traffic to drop their child off at a LEED certified school. I would drop my son off at the corner and tell him to walk the rest of the way, but there is no sidewalk.

Does anyone else see the irony in this?

What are we teaching our children if we build multimillion dollar schools that they cannot access or leave without a car/vehicle?  If parents have their children take the bus instead of driving it alleviates some of the issue, but in high school the kids drive themselves.

What are the solutions?  I cannot pretend to know them all but I can throw a few out there for consideration- let kids go to the school closest to their house that they can also walk to, build sidewalks and bike lanes throughout the township to ensure "Safe Routes to School", the school district should do long term planning in collaboration with the township to look into acquistion or reacquistion of possible school buildings within walkable neighborhoods, and teach our children about the environmental benefits of walking and biking while building infrastructure to support it. 

Let's go back to the future and join the 21st century with basic bike and pedestrian access to our schools and throughout the township.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jim Speer June 14, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Agreed 1,000%! Let's connect our public school infrastructure with some strategically placed sidewalks. I can think of a few very effective additions right off the bat. But, even more importantly, let's use the sidewalk infrastructure we already have now, and assign kids to their walking distance schools. Health benefits, environmental benefits, academic benefits, transportation cost benefits, social benefits, property values; the list goes on. All these can be gained for numerous kids in our school district at a cost of FREE, just by assigning them to their walkable schools.
Lee Shore June 14, 2012 at 03:09 PM
We are walkers to Penn Wynne. When we were looking at homes 4 years ago, the big attraction to our home was that our children can walk to school. I enjoy the walk, and think that kids in the district should be encouraged to walk as much as possible, but it needs to be safe. Our route to school is via Haverford road. Everyday we are at risk. We were almost hit last year due to speeding and drivers not paying attention to stopped traffic. Also, if you are a walker, and have issues with your route, there is no one in the district that will assist you in solving the problem. You are on your own. We have had sidewalks covered in over 6 inches of snow and ice for weeks after snowfall.As well as bushes that are overgrown into the sidewalk poking kids in the eye, and barely 6 inch clearance of snow 36 hours after snow fall. Since the kids are walking on sidewalks, it is the home owners responsibility to keep the sidewalks clear. As we all know, this does not happen. The district transportation dept will tell you to call the police. We have sent letters to the homeowners that helped a little, but we are still walking through bushes and overgrowth on the sidewalk, pushing us barely a foot away from Haverford Road. Again, I think that walking to school is great and has many benefits that Jim has listed above. But I think that the district needs to work with PenDot and the Safe Route to School program to make effective and safe changes for walkers in the district.
Raji Mohan June 14, 2012 at 03:11 PM
I enthusiastically support your idea about side walks and bike lanes. For starters, the Township Police can start ticketing motorists who refuse to share the roads with cyclists. Yesterday evening, car swerved at high speed around a cyclist pedaling up the incline on County Line Road, nearly hitting my car going in the opposite direction, and causing the cyclist to lose balance. Luckily there were no injuries.
Lee Shore June 14, 2012 at 03:13 PM
BTW, Kate, this is a great post! I hope that it will give a little "push" to the school board to try to make effective change. A few of the moms in my neighborhood have tried over the past 2 years to try to get something done. We are sent from one school or township dept to another, to no effective solution. "It is just the way it is." I really hope that your posting will draw much needs attention to this issue. I have heard "thru the grape vine" that the school board is very aware of this issue, but as far as I know, nothing has happened yet.
Brian A. June 14, 2012 at 04:10 PM
It is really sad how few sidewalks there are in Lower Merion north of Montgomery Avenue. Cynwyd is pretty good for sidewalks, but it's really terrible in most other parts of the township. I am a distance runner and would love to go exploring in some of those neighborhoods up there on my runs, but with such narrow roads and no sidewalks it is just not safe. In comparison, walk around Narberth sometime: every street has sidewalks on both sides! Then again, the homeowners that live in those northern parts of the township probably prefer it this way...
Jennifer Milani June 14, 2012 at 06:38 PM
We live about a quarter mile from Penn Valley and a half mile or so from Welsh Valley. My children can't walk to or from school because it's entirely too dangerous. I cross my fingers and hold my breath on the rare occasion when I ask my middle schoolers to walk over to Penn Valley to pick up their younger sibling. It seems like a no-brainer to me - good for the kids physically and developmentally, the environment, the function of a community, the District's budget (less buses) and pedestrian safety. Of course it all comes down to money but not sure priorities are always straight...
Lproz June 14, 2012 at 07:18 PM
It is becoming increasingly obvious that sidewalks are a necessary part of vibrant communities. Especially with a growing number of seniors interested in maintaining their homes (versus assisted living facilities), and an obesity epidemic on the rise with young children and adults, there are more reasons to be walking versus driving a car. Unfortunately there are people who feel like having a sidewalk nearby is a violation of their privacy, but we need to educate them on the multitude of benefits a sidewalk can bring. It is incredibly painful to live less than 1/3 of a mile to two schools and not be able to walk there because of a lack of sidewalks. It is painful to think that dog walkers are restricted to walking in streets and jumping into bushes that aren't trimmed back when cars come speeding by. It is painful to think that there are seniors who are either still driving, in spite of being older than a safe age to do so, or moving to retirement communities because they can not walk to the grocery store which is in a manageable distance. It is painful to see kids growing more and more obese, instead of watching them walk to school and learn more about living a healthy lifestyle. I am not comfortable waiting until a driver, speeding around a corner, hits a human being, before springing into action.
Kate Galer June 14, 2012 at 08:56 PM
http://lmsd.org/sections/news/default.php?m=0&t=today&p=lmsd_anno&id=2198 Go to the School District link above to see the Enrollment Projection Study that was just released by the School District. Take the time to read it thoroughly but note the projected increase from today's enrollment of 7360 students to 8698 students by 2021. High enrollment expected at Gladwyne ES and Penn Valley ES. It is time to think outside of the box and try to see what we can do as a community to relieve the stress on the system. An increase in families with children is great for the area and what the suburbs are supposed to be about, let's think about where we are going to put them all! I agree with Jim Speer's statement about using the infrastructure that is already there, and/or finding ways to connect new infrastructure to existing for bike and ped transportation. It can be inexpensive or free to taxpayers and actually save money if we can reduce busing costs. A side note - I would like to say that my son's access to education is affected by his inability to walk home from his school. On Tuesday, his Math teacher at Harriton held a review for the final that he took today. Since it was being held after all the buses had gone and he couldn't get a ride ( I was at work as many typical parents are at 3 in the afternoon), he couldn't go to the review. We shall see how he did on it...
Kris Prendergast June 15, 2012 at 01:22 PM
If everyone reading this article and agreeing with a need for sidewalks wrote a letter to the school board as well as to the township manager, perhaps they would see that the sentiments are not from an isolated geographic pocket or small subset of residents, but are shared by many and they would do more than nod and look away.
Richard Pasquier June 15, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Harriton's location is indeed unfortunate, but this could be made less of a burden if the school district would institute a regular loop of busses or vans between Lower Merion HS and Harriton in addition to the scheduled "activity buses." That coupled with improvements of sidewalks and crossings from the South side of Lancaster would allow for Harriton assigned students to walk safely to Lower Merion and catch a loop bus/van to Harriton and back, if they missed the bus, or had a brief academic appointment after school. I mentioned this idea to past School Directors who ignored it.
MerionManor June 21, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Sidewalks are great for some areas, I would not want sidewalks added to the more less densely populated areas, such as those to the north, same would apply to areas of Haverford without them. If my entire property had sidewalks I would have over 400 feet of sidewalk to maintain! This is not what I was looking for when I purchased the house, and I would not even want a sidewalk if I were given one, as I am not going to clean snow off of something I did want in the first place, read intentionally live in a house sans one. Sidewalks can destroy the look of historic areas, in my opinion.

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