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Roping in School Traffic Concerns in FH

Do you think alternatives, such as the old-time walking rope, should be explored again to quell traffic problems at school time?

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.

Chris October 04, 2012 at 01:58 AM
I agree with the traffic on school days becoming more congested on the local roads near the schools especially Knowllwood near where I live. Also a really big problem is speeding on our side roads here in Fair Haven. I don't see any enforcement to slow these drivers down. I am a life long resident of Fair Haven and went to both schools. In my day in the late 60s and 70s we walked or rode our bikes even on the rainiest and coldest days and we had no back packs for our books! We rode one handed or hand carried and walked. The traffic light at Hance and River Road now is terrible the way that it is timed causing even more traffic congestion. We need more in the way of car pooling for the kids, better traffic management and more enforcement of speeders on our side roads. Yes the town has grown quite a bit in my 50 years and there are more families and kids so there are more cars. That's a given.
Elaine Van Develde (Editor) October 04, 2012 at 03:11 AM
You know, Chris, I forgot that we didn't have backpacks! Now I remember it clearly ... carrying books and them sliding all over the place. Did you walk on the rope? ;)
Thomas Andrews October 04, 2012 at 11:00 AM
Honestly, the crossing gaurd in front of Knollwood is the reason for so much congestion. Sometimes I think he holds traffic and waits for kids that he sees down at Nativity! Kids are the priority,i get it, but you can't keep people waiting the way he does causing major congestion in the school parking lot and in front of Jackson, Poplar and even back as far as Parker. It becomes just as dangerous for kids in those areas trying to cross when it is so conjested.
Robert Candela October 04, 2012 at 11:40 AM
From reading this, it seems that the added road congestion that is causing concern over students' safety is caused by cars dropping children off and picking them up ... in other words, BY THEIR OWN PARENTS, the very ones who are clamoring for lower speed limits and other safety measures. In recent years, there has been endless talk about how we need to better protect our children, but have any of them actually been hit by cars? I can't remember hearing of a single one. The new lower speed limits are being universally ignored, and those wonderful new speed limit signs in the middle of the road make walking on the streets (remember: in most places we have no sidewalks) very dangerous, as cars can't veer over to the center of the road to avoid walkers. C'mon people, it wasn't dangerous and didn't need fixing.
John Hendrick October 04, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Its really simple...parents, encourage your kids to walk and or ride to school. We should make it next to impossible to get close to school with vehicles. You increase the pain level high enough and behavior will change. The real issue is that to walk to school everyone is going to have to get up and out the door earlier. I live one block away from school and watch kids on my street being driven every day. Its all about time management which is a great skill to teach kids early and often.
Stefanie Rueller October 04, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I totally agree with John here. The only solution is to reduce the number of cars that are dropping children off. In a town as small as ours, walking or biking your kids to school should be the norm not the exception.
Bob McNulty October 04, 2012 at 08:03 PM
My kindergarten class used "The Rope" to transport the group of us from Willow Street School to The Youth Center. It worked great to corral the kids since we were led by what appeared to our young eyes to be a fully uniformed, deputized and pretty darn strict officer of The Law. We were told to NEVER let go of the loop as we walked down River Road from Fair Haven to Maple. There was only one issue I remember that caused any problems. Thi swas the issue of tying shoes which any parent knows is a large one with kindergarteners. If you had to tie your shoe you couldn't. No one dared ask the entire entourage to stop for their problem. Some kids were actually trampled by the kids behind them as they tried to deal with their problem. It makes one wonder if perhaps the guy who invented velcro kid shoes was not also a victim of "The Rope". On the other hand...
JosephGhabourLaw October 04, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Sidewalks and bicycle lanes and/or routes are the norm in the rest of the United States, and are key in getting everybody around town safely. New Jersey in general needs to play catch-up in this area. Everybody benefits from a more bike and pedestrian friendly community. All of Fair Haven will benefit from this initiative.
Elaine Van Develde (Editor) October 04, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Bob, you're crackin' me up, here ... Of course, the shoelace/rope mishaps! I had almost forgotten that one. I also remember the "officer of the law" taking NO nonsense whatsoever. I cried all the way to the Youth Center once because the rope matron refused to let me walk next to my best friend. Yeah, when you walked on that rope line, you towed the line in behavior, too. Hey, it worked and we all lived to tell ... ;)
JosephGhabourLaw October 05, 2012 at 02:44 PM
http://www.walkingschoolbus.org/ is the current take on this issue. Sidewalks and bicycle lanes and/or routes are the norm in the rest of the United States, and are key in getting everybody around town safely. New Jersey in general needs to play catch-up in this area, and the walking school bus does this. Kids can walk, and most safety issues are addressed.
Pauline Regii P Bruce October 05, 2012 at 07:52 PM
I remember the rope! Great idea, it kept everyone together. Brother's/sister's keeper. Now in Phoenix where I live now, they have speed signs in the road, and through the school zone. 15mph...ZERO TOLORANCE!!!
SmallTownAntics October 07, 2012 at 01:03 AM
At Sickles everyone who is dropping off/picking up is trying to do so within about a 10 minute window, causing super congestion. The problem appears to be less at Knollwood because many parents drop off as early as 7:45-8AM, making a little less dense-pack at the 8:15-8:20 time period. Is there an opp to drop off at Sickles up to 15 minutes earlier, and maybe allow the kids to at least enter the gym as a holding area, especially on super cold or rainy days when everyone drives?
Mac October 07, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Ah, memories. Is the Sickles school a renamed Willow Street school or has a new school been built to replace it? Living in the Battin Road/Lewis Lane area, my friends and I were often switched from one school to the other each year in order to even out the head count as the town's population grew. It was a time when Muhammad Ali was still Cassius Clay Jr., so we hadn't learned about any rope tricks yet. We simply rode our bikes to and from school twice each day (we always went home for lunch) (I think we had to) until seventh grade, which was the age we realized we were 'too cool' to ride our bikes to school anymore. So we walked (in every kind of weather.) Yes, we were as clever then at that age as our children and grandchildren are today. I suspect Fair Haven's roads haven't gotten any wider while enduring these substantial increases in community traffic, and I suspect everyone's ideas about a viable solution will be great for everyone else to observe, so I fear the eventual remedy can only be the employment of school buses to satisfy these troublesome safety problems. Traditions die hard, but our memories last forever (I hope.) Best wishes in reaching a consensus.

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