Safety concerns plague morning drop-off

Assistant+Principal+Jeff+Leaman+directs+traffic+in+the+front+loop+during+morning+drop-off.++Agitation+amongst+drivers+and+pedestrians+in+the+morning+and+afternoon+creates+a+significant+safety+concern+for+students+at+WJ.

Photo by Nicole Weaver

Assistant Principal Jeff Leaman directs traffic in the front loop during morning drop-off. Agitation amongst drivers and pedestrians in the morning and afternoon creates a significant safety concern for students at WJ.

While the agitation of morning traffic around WJ has been constant for years, as the number of students continues to rise concerns have grown prompting administration to find quick solutions to the problem. Entering the winter season, students prefer to get dropped off in lieu of waiting in the cold for the bus, which has resulted in traffic congestion and frustrated drivers in the morning. With the already present overcrowding that plagues the school, this causes a nightmare for student and driver safety.

Significant safety concerns about the roads around WJ have risen from parents and students about the sheer volume of cars in the drop-off circle. Consequently, students show up late to their first period classes due to the traffic, creating even more agitation about morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up.

Assistant Principal Jeff Leaman directs the morning drop-off traffic and has contributed to initiatives in ensuring road safety around WJ. The biggest problem Leaman sees with traffic congestion is that parents usually concentrate in the morning between 7:30-7:45 am, even though the building opens as early as 7:00 am. In the morning, Leaman works to create fluidity with the front loop on his own.

I made it a point to expedite the process and have everyone out and have a good flow of traffic.”

— Leaman

Contributions to the traffic in the drop-off circle come from multiple different reasons, but in particular students who fall within the “two-mile radius” of WJ and are not supported by MCPS bus transportation. With several neighborhoods that fall within the two-mile radius, getting to school in the morning is made more difficult.

“I live behind Montgomery Mall, so it’s under the two mile limit where you get a school bus so they don’t supply one. A lot of people from my neighborhood have parents drive them, it’s not really walkable,” sophomore Elli Karistinou said.

Another end to the issue is for pedestrians crossing Democracy Boulevard. There is a crosswalk with a light timer attached to it for students parking at the Davis Library or anyone walking from the Ashburton neighborhood. Students often ignore the crosswalks and drivers ignore the red lights on the crosswalks. This leads to a significant concern for pedestrian safety due to the lack of compliance to the traffic patterns.

“The crosswalks between the back of the school and Davis Library are actually more unsafe because many drivers get impatient and irritated because as soon as the button is pressed, the light turns yellow to red really quickly,” junior Nico Chhina said.

Leaman acknowledged the safety concern of crossing Democracy Boulevard for pedestrians, but had no prior knowledge of it. Students affected by pedestrian and drop-off traffic are eager for solutions, but understand the limitations of the power the school has over these decisions.

Understanding the weight of the traffic and the pressure this places on students, Leaman has discussed possible solutions. Leaman has been in contact with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation and the Maryland Highway Administration to help plan ways to negate the traffic affecting the school and the wider WJ community. Simple requests like adding crosswalks and changing the timing on certain lights have all been in discussion.

“One of the conversations we have had is looking at the bus loop as an option for drop off, we would need additional staff members who can be there consistently. Ultimately the safest thing for students to do is get dropped off before the 7:30 timeframe,” Leaman said.

To pilot this plan, Leaman along with Principal Jennifer Baker and Community Engagement Officer Shate Jackson worked together beginning on Wednesday, Jan. 11 to direct traffic into the bus loop. Despite the initial confusion, the direction of drivers into the bus loop decongested the front loop and moved cars through in a timely manner. Precise attention needed to be maintained on drivers to ensure they were following the correct pattern and using the new loop safely.

“I did notice that the cars did move a lot faster than before, I think once people get used to it there will be less confusion,” Karistinou said.

While this plan has reduced traffic for the meantime, Leaman acknowledged this plan could be temporary. As of yet, nothing has been solidified and an email has not been sent out to inform parents, staff and students of this decision.

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