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The rush to be first in line invites danger
By Stephanie Bertholdo and Sylvie Belmond

FAST TRACK—Medea Creek Middle school counselor Carol Gallivan helps direct traffc during the morning drop-off in the front of the school on Tues., Sept. 24. The Oak Park campus is notorious for its rush hour traffc, but safety measures that were put into place are helping. 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers FAST TRACK—Medea Creek Middle school counselor Carol Gallivan helps direct traffc during the morning drop-off in the front of the school on Tues., Sept. 24. The Oak Park campus is notorious for its rush hour traffc, but safety measures that were put into place are helping. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers Mornings and afternoons in front of local schools can be a frustrating time for parents who drive their kids to class, but the snarled traffic can also affect communities at large.

Although cities and school districts have tried to deal with the issue of traffic congestion, it’s a problem that just never seems to go away.

From Calabasas to Oak Park, hardly a campus goes unscathed. But several hot spots have historically been worse than others.

Oak Park

For many years, Medea Creek Middle School on Doubletree Road in Oak Park was known for its tight corners, narrow lanes and wrong-way drivers. Gradually, the problems are being resolved.

STOP AND GO—Traffic backs up in front of Agoura High School last Tuesday. Limited access to the school creates frequent congestion in the Annandale and Old Agoura neighborhoods. 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers STOP AND GO—Traffic backs up in front of Agoura High School last Tuesday. Limited access to the school creates frequent congestion in the Annandale and Old Agoura neighborhoods. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers Vanessa Martin McGarry, who lives across the street from the school, says that when she tries to leave her home in the morning during drop-off time between 7:30 and 8:15 a.m. it takes her 20 minutes to travel one block to Kanan Road.

“Luckily my son walks to Medea now,” McGarry wrote. She said Medea “hands-down” presents the most traffic congestion in the area. The school has 1,125 students.

Principal Brad Benioff said measures introduced in recent years to keep kids safe and traffic flowing are finally paying off.

Stanchions were installed in the street to keep parents from attempting to turn left out of the school parking lot onto Doubletree Road. Some drivers took a shortcut into the lot by entering through the exit.

Other measures that have helped with traffic flow include a change from a two-way to a four-way stop at Doubletree and Hollytree Drive, plus a “no turn on red” sign from Kanan onto Doubletree.

Four years ago a student was hit by a car when he was dropped off across the street from the school. The boy was hurt, but he recovered, and the incident served as a major wake-up call.

“A student the year before that rode his bike into the street (and was hit by a car),” Benioff said. “He was, luckily, not seriously hurt.”

Each year, parents are reminded about safe drop-off areas and to cross only at designated areas, Benioff said.

Still, some parents and students shirk the rules.

Last year, the middle school campus opened 15 minutes earlier. The longer drop-off time helped to smooth the flow of traffic.

This year, the Kanan Shuttle and its pair of 24-passenger buses began running back and forth between the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills and Lindero Canyon Road in Oak Park with drop-off points near Medea Creek and Oak Park High.

Medea Creek also is offering an after-school teen program in conjunction with Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District.

“As this program grows, we hope to have more students able to be picked up from the campus later, again removing these cars from the jam up in the afternoon,” Benioff said.

The school is trying to be a good neighbor by keeping vehicles from using a condominium complex across the street as a turn-around point. Anger from the residents appears to have waned.

When school traffic was allowed to park on property belonging to the nearby Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, vandalism and accidents occurred. Four years ago the parking arrangement between school and church came to an end.

“It actually helps the traffic flow because parents used to turn left out of the church lot, blocking all upcoming traffic on Doubletree. I completely agree with the closure of their property and don’t want them blamed for contributing to our traffic issues in any way,” Benioff said.

Medea Creek’s traffic nightmares may finally be coming to end.

“I have had many comments from parents who have been here for a few years that this is the best traffic has been,” Benioff said. “As we have established the drop-off routine, we are getting more cars through more efficiently. We also are having more students arrive early on campus. Again, though, with the numbers of cars coming in, it has to be recognized that there will be traffic issues.”

Oak Park resident Mirith Colao says traffic has improved. She said she’s noticed more students who live in the Chambord and Regency developments now walking to school. And, Colao said, “After school, a number of children walk from (Medea Creek) to Deerhill Park, where moms and dads pick them up.”

Agoura Hills

When the new performing arts education center went under construction at Agoura High School, parking spaces were lost and parents and neighbors complained about an increase in traffic jams during pickup and drop-off times.

But Agoura High Principal Brian Mercer said the majority of spaces lost to the new center have been restored.

“We were fortunate enough to add extra parking by the tennis courts due to Indian Hills High School being moved,” Mercer said. “The old Indian Hills parking has been opened up to Agoura High students and staff.”

Mercer said about 400 students drive to Agoura High each day.

“I would say most suburban high schools across America— large high schools, anyway—have traffic issues in the morning and afternoon,” he said. “It’s just a given that there is going to be traffic when moving to small area dropoff, pickup (areas).”

Mercer said carpooling will continue to be encouraged.

“Personally, I would like to see more students ride their bikes to school,” he said. “If students live close enough to campus, transportation via bicycle is a great solution . . . (It is) clean, saves the environment, (offers) healthy exercise, and it will help ease our traffic issues.”

Old Agoura and Annandale residents feel the biggest pinch from Agoura High’s traffic.

Old Agoura resident Meril Platzer said she battles the congestion daily.

“The traffic flow along Driver Avenue from Argos Avenue to Chesebro is a nightmare during the peak school hours . . . until 3:30 p.m.,” she said.

Platzer takes Driver Avenue to her home near Chesebro and Palo Comado Canyon roads. During peak hours, she said, it takes about 10 minutes to travel one mile.

Platzer said the Kanan Shuttle has yet to have an impact on the traffic flow at Agoura High, but she hopes it will..

“We should encourage students and parents to take the shuttle, and the shuttle should have stops at or near the high school and the elementary schools,” Platzer said. “Another alternative is building an off site parking structure and a road to take the traffic flow from Argos to Kanan Road.”

According to Ramiro Adeva, Agoura Hills’ director of public works, “The shuttle is not a school shuttle and is for general transportation purposes. However, the shuttle has a stop at the Kanan-Thousand Oaks intersection, which is within walking distance to Agoura High School.”

Adeva said a 2011 traffic study showed that nearly 8,000 vehicles travel along Driver Avenue daily.

“The city does not collect data specifically tailored to school traffic,” Adeva said. “Based upon our field observations, traffic is heavy during drop-off and pickup times, but the streets are not necessarily ‘traffic jammed’ to the point where there is gridlock. Traffic still moves, but there is congestion during the 20 to 30 minutes of drop-off and pickup times.”

City and school district officials meet periodically to reassess the Agoura High traffic and to discuss traffic circulation in general, Adeva said.

“The city has provided some solutions to resolve ingress/egress issues, on-site and off-site parking and even had meetings with students to bring awareness about alternative modes (of transportation).”

Calabasas Mayor Fred Gaines sees the school traffic problem in a different light.

“The biggest safety risk is not really from the volume of traffic, which is an annoyance, but it’s from the distracted driving,” Gaines said.

The city’s School Area Traffic Safety Committee meets regularly and promotes discussions with school and law enforcement officials on how to deal with unsafe traffic conditions.

The top trouble spots in Calabasas are the Mulholland Highway corridor and two major roads near A.E. Wright Middle School.

The Mulholland corridor includes four campuses: Calabasas High, Chaparral Elementary, A.C. Stelle Middle School and Viewpoint School.

“Two of those are high schools that have a large number of student drivers. So that’s certainly our No. 1 area,” Gaines said.

The city has been working with the schools in an attempt to stagger the rush hour traffic.

“We spend a lot of time trying to coordinate drop-off and pickup times so that they are not occurring at the same time,” Gaines said.

To encourage less traffic during peak hours, Calabasas pays for a school employee to be on site at least a half-hour before and after classes at all campuses in the city.

The city also improved signs and crosswalks at key locations— installing flashing beacons, inroad flashers and other traffic safety devices.

In 2010, the city built a footbridge linking A.E. Wright Middle School to Lost Hills Road to encourage students who live on the west side of the creek to walk to school and decrease traffic congestion on Las Virgenes Road.

Discussions are underway to place a crossing guard at the intersection of Lost Hills Road and Cold Springs Street.

The city also created a number of enhancements to improve traffic flow at Bay Laurel and other elementary schools.

But without the cooperation of parents, it’s impossible to resolve all issues, said Calabasas Hills resident Harold Gidish, who lives near Bay Laurel.

Discourteous and impatient drivers are responsible for most traffic problems, Gidish said.

“A few people mess it up for everyone else when they disobey the rules and cut off other people. If everybody cuts in line, I never would get out of my neighborhood in the morning,” said the resident, who suggested the city prohibit all U-turns in the vicinity of Bay Laurel when school is in session.

The best advice from all offi cials: Leave early, drive slowly, be patient.

2013-09-26 / Front Page

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