How to get to school safely becomes issue of complexity for residents of Taneytown

Neighborhood with bus wants crossing guard

one with guard wants a bus

November 15, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

At Pam Howard's breakfast table, her son, Joshua, can look out the window and see Northwest Middle School, where he is a pupil. Out the kitchen door, he can see Taneytown Elementary School.

The schools are about 200 feet away, but Joshua and the other children in his Courier Drive neighborhood, such as Ted Parrish, a fifth-grader, are supposed to ride a bus rather than cross busy Kings Drive, which runs in front of both schools.

Their parents would rather have a crossing guard help them cross, and they asked the City Council to hire one. Council members indicated they would approve the request.

It was a no-brainer, said Mayor Henry C. Heine -- until other residents came to the Nov. 8 meeting to protest.

"It seemed like an unusual thing, to have people protesting a crossing guard for the safety of kids," Heine said. "It's a little more complex than we thought."

While some parents want a crossing guard at the intersection in front of the school, the council is looking to the broader issue, including whether those children would be safest riding a bus. Other concerns include the behavior of drivers before and after school.

One of those protesting Nov. 8 was Lori Ott. Ott's children live less than a mile from their school, so they don't automatically qualify for bus service. But they have to cross East Baltimore Street -- Route 140, a state highway -- on their walk to Taneytown Elementary. They have a crossing guard, but Ott said the walk is so unsafe that she never lets them go alone.

She would rather have them ride the bus and faults the Howards and other parents in the Courier Drive area who choose not to use a bus made available to them.

"I'll be glad to give them my crossing guard, and I'll take their bus," Ott said.

Council vote postponed

But it's not that simple. So council members postponed a vote until they can iron out a solution with school officials, Heine said.

Crossing guards and school buses are provided by different agencies. Municipalities are responsible for hiring crossing guards. The Carroll County school system provides the buses. Officials there had not been contacted by the city about the problem, said James Doolan, supervisor of transportation.

The general rule is that students who live within a mile of school don't ride a bus unless they face unsafe walking conditions.

An independent panel that includes a state trooper, two parents, representatives from county and state roads departments -- but no school staff -- decides when to grant exceptions to the one-mile rule, said Kathleen Sanner, director of support services for county schools.

One exception was granted years ago to the neighborhood just south of the schools, including Courier Drive, Cambridge Court and Grand Drive. The children would have to cross Kings Drive, the main thoroughfare for school buses and parents dropping off and picking up children at the two schools.

Joshua Howard and neighbor Ted Parrish would have to walk farther to a bus stop than they would to school -- so they just walk to school.

If they rode a bus home from school, they would have to wait about 15 minutes to board it. Walking, they can get home in about three minutes.

The solution, said Pam Howard and other parents in her neighborhood, is for the city of Taneytown to hire a crossing guard for the intersection of Kings and Courier drives. While only a handful of children walk to and from school, Howard said more would walk if there was a crossing guard. Some of these children ride with their parents, so a crossing guard would help eliminate some of the traffic, Howard said.

Complaints about drivers

All parents interviewed complained about negligent drivers, who speed in school zones ignoring children stepping into a crosswalk, make impolite hand gestures and sometimes yell out to them to "Take a bus."

Some parents who live near Courier Drive have tried videotaping the traffic and writing down tag numbers of drivers who speed or won't stop for the children, said Lisa Hardester of Cambridge Court, who said the tape and tag numbers are available for city officials who want to see them.

Several parent drivers have taken offense, and one stopped to rebuke them, Hardester said.

Hardester said she has taken to driving her children the short distance to school, or walking them, after her fourth-grader came home to tell her she had fallen in the crosswalk, and a car just went around her as she lay in the street.

"I said, `That's it.' I went down there to watch the traffic, and I couldn't believe it," Hardester said.

Ott said she understands the parents who want a safe crossing for their children.

She wants the same thing for hers, she said. But when the county is paying to provide a bus, the children should ride it rather than having to make the city pay about $4,000 a year for a crossing guard, Ott said.

Mayor Heine, who doesn't have a vote except to break a tie, said he favors a way to have children who live near the school walk safely, reducing the number of vehicles on the road.

It fits into the state push for Smart Growth, he said.

"One of the things about Smart Growth is to get people out of vehicles and walking," Heine said.

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