Lord Baltimore successful with new traffic patterns

After traffic backed up at least 20 cars deep on Route 26 during the first week of the school year, Lord Baltimore Elementary School’s new traffic pattern has made major improvements this week.

Representatives from the Indian River School District, the state legislature and the Department of Transportation met on Sept. 4 to observe heavy Route 26 traffic that nearly came to a stop as parents and guardians drove students to school, accessing the western parking lot by Old School Lane, but backing up beyond that road and onto Route 26.

Principal John Turssline estimated that around 200 students are driven to the school each day. Out of 640 students, around 100 are school choice students at LB, who generally don’t live nearby and whose parents are responsible for their transportation — although Turssline said some of those students have access to an LB bus stop. The district does provide a seat on a bus for each of the 540 LB-area students and encourages families to take advantage of that.

To deal with the traffic headaches — which seemed to have worsened this school year as full-day kindergarten spurred an earlier 8 a.m. start to class time, while parents were still restricted from dropping children off prior to 7:45 a.m. — a new traffic pattern was put into place starting Monday, Sept. 9.

Under the new plan, cars enter the former bus-only entrance from Route 26 on the school’s east side, winding around the school, instead of entering the staff parking lot from Old School Lane. The buses and cars now make a single line, dropping off their charges with waiting staff.

Drivers faced a learning curve as they got used to the new lineup, and the results led to the change initially being called a failure.

Parent Jonathan Staehle recalled the traffic backup Monday morning that stretched to the Giant grocery store. Cars were waiting in the median beginning at the post office. Driving from Roxana, Staehle has two school-choice children who didn’t get in the school until 8:15 a.m., though students are deemed tardy if they are not in class at 8 a.m.

Part of the problem was having cars and buses in the same line, especially when one bus couldn’t get into the Route 26 shoulder to clear the travel lane for other vehicles.

“Yesterday was a disaster,” Turssline said on Tuesday. “This morning was actually beautiful. Somebody actually said they think we have it solved. There was no backup.”

Drop-off now begins as early as 7:30 a.m., which parents took advantage of on Tuesday.

“Every time cars pulled up, I could see the last car [in line],” said Turssline. “So there was nobody waiting on the road.”

Wednesday wasn’t as perfect, because more cars arrived later, but it still went smoothly.

Afternoon pick-up may still leave some cars waiting on the Route 26 shoulder, because students are all released at the same time. Buses still take up most of the lane in staging, and parking lot traffic is halted until the nine buses exit. Parents and guardians are being asked to arrive as close to 3 p.m. as possible, and not before. They can pick up children after the buses leave.

Drivers are also being asked to exit left onto Old School Lane, rather than going right, toward Route 26, so they disperse over more back roads before entering Route 26. The cars were gone by 3:15 p.m. Tuesday, Turssline said.

The school received positive feedback at the Tuesday-night open house for families with children in first through third grades. But the nighttime event raised its own parking concerns. The LB parking lot does not have space for even three grades’ worth of parents at afterschool functions. That leads to cars being parked along both edges of the unlit and unmarked road, which is just wide enough for two cars to pass, along with people walking along the road from their cars to the school and back again.

School officials said they are looking into creating additional parking by converting part of a grassy field to the right of the Old School Lane entrance into 76 new parking spots.

“We’re still hoping that DelDOT is looking into the beautification of Old School Lane so we can get shoulders and sidewalks [there]. That would help, because without the shoulders … it’s really dangerous for our parents.”

But traffic isn’t bottlenecking in front of the elementary school, which seems to be good news.

“It was trial-and-error. We … definitely feel really good right now. It doesn’t mean we won’t tweak it as the year progresses,” Turssline said.