Usually one hears the adage “share the road” as a plea to motorists to make way for cyclists. But in Milton, the cry is coming from Milton school administrators to parents.
This school year, the traffic situation has been so bad that Milton police have participated in 12 directed patrols during drop-off and pick-up times at Milton Elementary School. That doesn’t count when officers drive by on regular duty.
The problem happens every year, Principal Mary Jane Stinson said: Cars line Herrick Avenue and park in the drop-off lane – meant only for tots to hop out and for parents to be on their way. But this year, the district wants the dangerous situation to change.
The district spent nearly $2,000 in 2010 on large boulders, which it placed along Herrick Avenue, to dissuade cars from stopping. But because the rocks are set back to leave room for plows, visitors use that space to park, Superintendent John Barone said.
And parents park in the drop-off area, leaving their vehicle unattended in a fire lane at that. The congestion creates a fire hazard and a traffic mess, Milton Police Sgt. John Palasik said.
“They’re good about it when the police are here,” he said on a recent chilly morning. “That’s the only thing that does work.”
Indeed, on that cold day, two police cruisers idled near the school. Only one parent left the drop-off area, a short slip lane off Herrick, to enter the building. When he returned, Palasik explained the rules.
Before that, two vehicles stopped on a snowy shoulder. Palasik radioed to nearby Cpl. Gordon LaFountain to move his cruiser to Baker Lane, just across from the vehicles. They soon departed.
“If you get here early enough, it solves the problems,” Palasik said. Around 8:30 a.m., he’d already been there a half-hour, cruiser lights on.
The district doesn’t have a policy governing visitors waiting – not parking – in the drop-off area, Barone said, but if there was one, police couldn’t enforce it. The district wants parents to know that parking in the drop-off is a ticket-able and tow-able offense.
“We have a few folks that would like to visit,” Stinson said. “We get that, but we have parking places for them to park and then visit.”
The district prefers parents to park in the two designated lots. One is past the bus lane, further down Herrick Avenue; the other is directly across from the school’s front entrance.
Since the district moved Grades 7 and 8 to the elementary school building, it designated more parking spaces for visitors in the front lot. Spots were previously reserved for staff, but administrators aren’t sure if parents have noticed the change.
“We don’t want parents to think we’re not welcoming them,” Barone said. “Of course, this is their school, but what we ask is safety first, and that’s why we freed up the parking spaces.”
Principal Wendy Savery said she’s witnessed some close calls with students darting between vehicles. Buses have also had difficulty turning into the bus lane due to the number of cars lining the street, sometimes on both sides, she said.
Savery saw a similar situation when she was a superintendent in Rutland.
“The only thing that helped was issuing tickets over a period of time, not once in a while,” she said. “You literally had to be out there three weeks and ticket, ticket, ticket.”
Though Palasik said Savery is right, Milton PD hasn’t written any tickets there this school year, though he has in the past.
The goal is to be visible, Palasik said, but sometimes, the department can’t spare officers to sit and run traffic details, or they get called away.
Ideally, the district would have more parking spots closer to the building, Barone said. But in his 20-plus years in education, he’s never worked in a school with enough parking.
For now, the district is pleading with parents to create a safer zone for its students.
“People forget that even though there’s a school here, this is still a public road. Herrick Avenue belongs to the Milton community,” Barone said. “We welcome you; please park safely and come into our buildings.”