Town seeks fix for school traffic hazard

Photos by Ron Leir Concern about traffi c perils outside Franklin School -- where parents often park in prohibited yellow zones (l.) or double-park to drop off kids -- prompted parent Rosalia Diaz Colon (r.) to ask the school board for help.
Photos by Ron Leir
Concern about traffic perils outside Franklin School — where parents often park in prohibited yellow zones (l.) or double-park to drop off kids — prompted parent Rosalia Diaz Colon (r.) to ask the school board for help.


Rosalia Diaz Colon is a Kearny parent standing up for safety. Colon, whose son attends Franklin School on Davis Ave., came to the Board of Education meeting last week to urge that something be done about traffic congestion outside the school when parents drop off and pick up their kids.

“I’m afraid for our children,” Colon told the board members.

Because of persistent parking in prohibited yellow zones, double-parking and kids running across a heavily-traveled roadway, Colon said she’s worried that “a serious accident may happen” and recommended that a “task force” of educators, police and parents hash out the situation.

And that is, more or less, what is happening.

“We share your concern,” Schools Superintendent Patricia Blood said, adding that she meet two weeks ago with Police Chief John Dowie and the department’s traffic experts to discuss strategies that “might improve” the snarling of vehicles in front of schools at the start of the day and during dismissal time.

Unfortunately, Blood said, “we don’t have the luxury of the suburbs” where districts can install “long [looping] driveways for drop-off zones and, she added, there is a problem with expanding school no parking zones because it takes parking spaces away from neighbors.

The issue that is troubling to school officials, she said, is that some parents who drive their kids to and from school “pull up to the school entrance,” typically in an area reserved for school bus parking, “or on the opposite side of the street, allowing children to run across a busy street,” exposing them to potential risk.

“Several children have been hit by cars, although not always on the way to school,” she said.

Kearny Police Sgt. John Taylor, the department’s traffic officer, said the traffic squad doesn’t have the personnel to be at every school every day but does manage to check a different elementary school each day on a rotation schedule.

“We try to deter double parking and prohibited parking by asking drivers to move or by giving tickets – at least four or five a day,” Taylor told The Observer. But it is not an easy task, he said. “Parents have total disregard, and especially if it’s inclement weather, forget it.”

At the beginning of each school year, the KPD sends letters to each school, to be distributed to parents and guardians, strongly cautioning drivers to avoid “double parking, park[ing] in prohibited areas, blocking crosswalks, blocking school bus stops, dropping off or picking up children in the middle of the street, and speeding.” And, the letter adds, “violators will be summonsed.” Aside from court fines, violators found guilty can also be hit with additional penalties: two points for ignoring a safety officer, two points for failure to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, two points for careless driving, five points for reckless driving, etc.

The pity of it is, observed Franklin School Principal Yvonne Cali, that for the most part, it’s probably unnecessary for students to be chauffeured to and from school.

“My kids walked to school in Kearny, as early as third grade, with groups of their friends who they’d meet on the way,” she said. “And they enjoyed the camaraderie of it. And they’d stop at shops on the way home to buy things so it helped local business. And it’s good exercise for the kids. We’ve got to get back to the old Kearny. … We need to re-train our parents. I have 1,100 children in this school. We cannot handle the traffic. And even if we had a loop in front of the school, we wouldn’t be able to start classes until 10:45 because it would take long for all the cars to complete the drop-offs.”

Blood said she’ll be setting up a meeting in mid-December with the police chief and Mayor Alberto Santos. “I’m going to present some ideas we have. But the issues are bigger than creating a few drop-off areas.” If parents feel they have to drive kids to school, at the very least, she said, they could “park a block away” and walk their kids from there “but we can’t force them.”

As for busing as a possible alternative, Blood said the district “cannot afford” that option but “we can get a safe walking route” program going.

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