Cars, buses to switch spots at Edison Elementary School

Traffic problems at Edison Elementary School have moved beyond asking parents to change their behavior to moving the pick-up and drop-off points.

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A school bus and car pass each other on Alder Street as Edison Elementary School lets out Tuesday afternoon February 16, 2010. Dave Larson (right, in green) works as part of a two person crossing guard at Alder Street for students headed home from the school. Starting Monday, February 22 the bus and parent pick-up/drop-off will swap locations to improve safety and traffic congestion around the school. Buses will load on Alder Street and parents will use the back area of the school.

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Students looking for their ride home or walking home cross traffic laden Alder Street as Edison Elementary School lets out Tuesday afternoon.

WALLA WALLA -- Before the last school bell rang at Edison Elementary on Tuesday, the cars were already lined up a dozen deep down Hobson Street, which empties into the school's main driveway in the front.

Despite the long line, staff members waiting outside with children called it a light day.

Traffic congestion in front of the school has gotten so tangled, the school is hoping a switch in the drop-off and pick-up area will help relieve serious concerns.

Starting Monday, the recently constructed school will move its parent pick-up and drop-off location from the front of the school to the back. The school's buses, which now pick up and drop off students from the back lot, will switch to the front.

Edison Principal Nancy Withycombe said the move is drastic but necessary given the valid safety concerns arising from the daily picking up and dropping off of students.

Withycombe explained that the traffic problems surfaced early on, and suggestions were made to parents to help ease some of the congestion. In November, Withycombe sent a letter to families that focused on the traffic, and asked parents to do a number of things.

Those suggestions included asking parents to refrain from parking along the parking area's curb. The goal was to have cars instead pull up as close to the Alder Street exit as possible and create a single-file line of vehicles.

Withycombe also suggested parents park on Alder and walk to meet their children, or ask their children to exit the school quickly to avoid long waits.

But a few weeks after the notice was sent, Withycombe said it was clear the traffic problems would need a different solution.

With its new construction, Edison expanded from one of the smallest elementary schools in the district to the biggest. Where Edison once served about 250 students, it is now closer to 500.

More children has meant more cars. And the front lot, which had been designed to streamline traffic, proved too small.

The greatest concern among parents and staff is a double line of traffic that forms in the lot as some parents park along the curb to wait for their children, and others drive past them down the middle. The stopping and going of all the vehicles has made it dangerous for the children, who sometimes rush to their waiting car.

"It's just not safe," Withycombe said.

Edison families, as well as area neighbors, are to be notified this week of the switch. The lot in the back is similar to the one in front. It is accessed from Hobson or McCabe streets, and has a single entrance that loops around parking spots and exits the way cars came in. The biggest difference is that the back lot, designed for buses, is bigger.

"There will be more room for parents to drive in and park along the curb," Withycombe said. "It won't be so congested."

The switch will include a minor revision in the front lot to give the buses enough room to exit right onto Alder Street.

One Edison parent said she was skeptical that the switch will improve the traffic problems, but said she was grateful that the school was taking the matter seriously.

"I sometimes feel like we're moving the problem from the front of the school to the back of the school," said Kathryn Southwick-Hess, who has been an Edison parent for 11 years, with her youngest now going through the school.

Southwick-Hess said part of the problem may simply be Edison's size.

"It's a big school for a rather small neighborhood," she said. And as a parent who walks her daughter to and from school, the amount of vehicles coming and going can also be daunting.

Southwick-Hess is not the only parent with concerns. One parent raised the Edison traffic situation during a recent City Council meeting as an example of the need for the city and schools to communicate better. Withycombe said a father has also been in touch with the police and fire departments regarding regulations.

Withycombe said like with any new building, some problems won't surface until the doors open for business.

"It's kind of like moving into a new house," she said. "You have to figure out how to use it right."

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.

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