Wednesday was National Walk to School Day and it proved to be a dank, rainy washout.
The weather was dreary and drizzly and forecasts were threatening, giving suburban Fair Haven students less reason to walk and increased impetus for more than the usual, large driving pool of parents to drive.
And, in the walkable 1.6-square-miles that comprise Fair Haven, the trend toward driving children to school in the small town has been ever-increasing over the past few decades.
At school start and dismissal times, traffic clogs the streets fronting and near Knollwood and Viola L. Sickles schools. The race to get the best drop-off and pick-up spots has, many times, escalated into something tantamount to vehicular fisticuffs.
Sickles Interim Principal Tom Famulary even donned a referee outfit outside of school on the first day to try to broach the traffic problem with humor while encouraging heightened safety.
And police have put drivers on notice.
At a Borough Council meeting at the start of school, Fair Haven officials talked about that notice as they cautioned drivers to slow down for the sake of kids’ safety, among other things.
Police were and are on alert and serious about ticketing speeders and careless drivers. In a few days’ time, in fact, police had issued 31 tickets to violators of safety and the law.
“Beware folks,” Councilman Rowland Wilhelm, police liaison, said at a September Fair Haven Borough Council meeting. “Kids are in school. Slow down.”
It’s been a longtime complaint of residents that it’s just not safe enough anymore for kids to walk and/or bike to school. Earlier this year, the speed limit was lowered from 25 to 20 miles per hour on Kemp Avenue, a street that is known as heavily traversed by school children and children at play.
Third Street, a main thoroughfare to and from Knollwood and Sickles schools, is closed off to drivers during school hours to make the street more pedestrian and cyclist friendly and encourage walking and/or biking to and from school to quell drop-off and pick-up traffic.
Fair Haven has also adopted a state Complete Streets program initiative, replete with more prominently-marked parking and walking areas and bike lane initiatives in the works.
It’s become evident that the notion of encouraging walking to school has become less popular with the trend toward convenience and cloistering children from predators and worrisome walking conditions.
But residents and police continue to complain that traffic conditions have become increasingly hazardous with the advent of larger vehicles and inattentive drivers.
The problem didn’t exist back in the 1960s and 70s. It was just assumed that when kids hit school age, they walked in groups or rode bikes.
Some had car pools and used one car to carry several children, but usually only if they lived on the outer boundaries of the borough deemed slightly too far to hike or bike.
And there was also a walking rope. A special officer would tote kids on a rope to the Youth Center, where kindergarten classes were held. The officer would come by at certain times and kids would pick up a loop on either side of the rope while she led the way to school.
There were no threatening clusters of pick-up and drop-off traffic vying for the best spot. The population was not nearly as high then, either and SUVs were characteristically sedans or station wagons shared by many family members.
Now, the population in Fair Haven is much higher. There are 1,970 households; and, out of those 1,970, more than 51 percent include children under 18, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
There are still walkers and cyclists on either sides of the borough, but the traffic is remains an increasingly problematic issue.
So where do you think the solution lies? Should enforcement get even tougher to drive the safety message home? Should the district consider bringing back the rope?
We know there are longtime Fair Havenites out there who remember the rope. Tell us your rope stories and, purely theoretically, if you think it may be a good idea to bring back the rope or go with the traffic flow.