Concerns over child safety, traffic congestion and loss of affordable parking

By Mike Goodman

 Parents can currently drop-off and pick-up elementary school children directly on the sidewalk. Residents are concerned that a Department of Transportation plan could change this; Courtesy of Author

According to emails obtained by The Southwester, as well as conversations with community members, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is planning to install protected bicycle lanes on I (Eye) Street, SW. Many community members first learned of these plans in February, and had not received any prior outreach by DDOT. Southwest residents are raising questions about the plan, including around the safety of young children who attend Amidon-Bowen Elementary School, increased traffic congestion at the I (Eye) and 4th Street intersection, and loss of parking spots.

The installation of protected bike lanes typically means the bike lane directly abuts the sidewalk, with a row of parked cars or other barrier between the bike lane and the traffic lanes. DDOT recently made these types of changes along 4th Street, SW. The intention is to create a safer bike lane, by having a barrier between the bike lane and car traffic.

However, community members have noted this would not be a feasible construct along I (Eye) Street, particularly in front of Amidon-Bowen Elementary School, as it would require parents and school buses to stop in the middle of the street to pick-up or drop-off children. The current DDOT proposal would have children entering or exiting vehicles in the middle of automobile traffic lanes, and then having to cross an active bike lane to get to the main entrance of the school. Community members have also pointed out that bicyclists utilizing the bike lane will be forced to use a lane with hundreds of young children and parents crossing throughout the day, which creates safety and liability concerns for cyclists. Amidon-Bowen currently educates children as young as three years old.

“It is unfortunate that DDOT has not made proactive attempts to engage the school community to provide details about their plans or receive input on the potential impact these plans will have on students. We are concerned they are taking a misguided approach to the I street bike lanes between 4th and 6th streets. The safety of our elementary school children should be the top priority, period,” says Nicole Renard, President of the Amidon-Bowen Parent-Teachers Association (PTA).

When asked about details for this article, a DDOT Spokesperson told The Southwester, “DDOT will consider additional treatments around the school to address safety concerns. Possible measures include green paint ‘hatching,’ cyclist speed bumps, and school-zone signage and ground markings to prompt both cyclists and drivers to slow down and watch for pedestrians.”

However, this does not satisfy the demands of parents, who note regardless of signage, children as young as three years old will still be forced to cross an active bike lane under the current proposal. “Any proposal that leads to children exiting vehicles in the middle of the street, and having to cross bicycle traffic just to enter their school, will be unacceptable to parents, residents and our community. We need DDOT to ensure they are prioritizing the safety of schoolchildren,” says Renard.

Additional concerns have also been raised about DDOT’s plans. Pick-up and drop-off occurs at Amidon-Bowen four times throughout the day, due to before-care and after-care. If parents and buses are forced to stop in the middle of the road, this will put traffic at a literal stand-still during peak rush hours. Furthermore, traffic congestion is expected to be even worse with the completion of the new Shakespeare building at 6th and I (Eye) Street, which is currently slated to have a drop-off and pick-up zone on I (Eye) Street, just down the block from Amidon-Bowen’s main entrance.

“Many of our children need to be walked into the building. Therefore it is essential that DDOT maintain a dedicated pick-up and drop-off zone that allows parents and bus drivers to pull up and park directly by the sidewalk. As far as we are aware, DDOT is not proposing to remove a dedicated lane for any other elementary school in the city, and it is not appropriate for Amidon-Bowen Elementary School,” says Renard.

Other residents have expressed concern over a loss of parking spots in the neighborhood. While DDOT has stated varying numbers on the exact number of parking spots the neighborhood will lose, it is clear a loss of parking will occur under the current proposal. While some Southwest residents have access to, and are able to afford, off-street parking, many others rely on street parking in the neighborhood. Furthermore, health care workers, child care workers, contractors and visitors to the neighborhood’s many attractions rely on street parking.

Ruth Hamilton, co-pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church at 4th and I (Eye) Street, SW, notes that “Although DDOT did not reach out to Westminster about the proposed bike lane on I Street SW, we would heartily agree with Amidon-Bowen’s serious concerns. With our new project coming just across the street, we’ll lose some spaces on our side for a drop-off/pick-up area for seniors. We need every available parking space for the full houses we have on Mondays and Fridays and other community events. It does seem that there ought to be a better way to accommodate bikes. Those evening parking places have been critical for our heavily senior crowd.”In response to these concerns, a DDOT Spokesperson committed to perform outreach to the community, stating, “Through continued analysis and community outreach, DDOT will formalize a plan for the corridor to present in future community meetings.”

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