The parents of Sunset Park have spoken and the overwhelming response was that they don’t feel their kids are safe walking to school.

Roughly 40 parents gathered for a “traffic” meeting at Sunset Park Elementary on April 20. Also attending were Commissioner Scott Boyd, Tyrone Smith of OCPS, Orange County Traffic Engineering Manager Ruby Rozier, a couple of teachers, a handful of OCSO deputies, two school principals, three local business representatives, plus a couple of additional representatives from the school district. Commissioner Boyd scheduled the meeting due to the volume of complaints he has received regarding traffic to the school and at the intersection of 535 and Overstreet.

I have mentioned my main issues regarding this many times on this blog. If you would like to download a pdf of the cumulative package of graphics and writing I have distributed about these issues, please click below. The biggest issue, in my opinion, is that the school parking lot is not the problem. It starts out on CR535 where most students are transported from only two directions, south and west (see our zone at through a 55mph zone. CR535 was designed for speed. Pedestrians were an afterthought.

On important element that should help us is that we are located within Horizon West which was founded on pedestrian principles such as neighborhood schools, villages, and pedestrian and cycling safety.

Ms. Rozier asked, by a raise of hands, whether we feel our children are safe accessing the school. She seemed completely surprised by the response that we feel they are not. For the next hour or so, parents complained, commented, and asked questions. We were even joined by three Subway employees (from the adjacent shopping center) who engaged the discussion.

Suggestions included adding lanes (I think Commissioner Boyd mentioned I would blow a head gasket on this one), moving the crosswalk to the opposite side of Overstreet (eliminating two wide crossings for one narrow crossing), adding left-hand turn signals from Overstreet, staggering release times (problem with buses and parents with more than one student), and changing county policy to add a school zone as part of CR535. In my opinion, most of these have complications except for placing the crosswalk on the opposite side of Overstreet.

As for some of my specific comments, such as the 90′ wide bus entrance/exit driveway, Ms. Rozier responded that it was needed for emergency vehicles to enter the property. Though a few minutes later, when asked about traffic blocking Overstreet in case of an emergency, Deputy Spear stated, “We’re going to get in there.” That sort of makes having 90′ of pavement with dedicated left and right-hand turn lanes at a bus driveway for only six buses all turning in the same direction unnecessary.

Regarding the need for the barricade on Overstreet behind Walgreens where there is no buffer between the sidewalk and street, which seems like the most immediate and easy fix to me, Ms. Rozier replied that a barricade would be a maintenance issue, and Mr. Smith replied that children would climb on it and fall in the road.

As for a lack of an area of refuge within 535, Ms. Rozier asked me personally why I would propose or want that since the crossing signal lasts long enough for the children to cross.

Towards the end, one mother, Leann Flynn, added that we wanted to hear their suggestions. Ms. Rozier’s response: “We’ve already implemented our suggestions.”

Obviously, the school’s location on the opposite side of the freeway known as CR535 is a big problem. As confirmed by Mr. Smith in the meeting, the land was given to the school board. And while I understand why the school board has to save money (even doing so by purchasing land under non-assuming names), according to my research, this ‘donation’ occurred in 2003 long after the plan for Horizon West was adopted.

The second problem with the location is that there is no secondary outlet from the school. Everyone must go through the big intersection at CR535 and Overstreet. Ms. Rozier indicated that there is one in the masterplan as part of a phase of Harvest Bible Chapel.

At the conclusion, Ruby read her list of items to look into:

  • Left turn signals from Overstreet
  • Graduated speed limits on 535 (design speed is very high however)
  • Review the turning radius at the intersetion, though she mentioned that the buses need a large turning radius. (I have looked this up, and it is much less than what exists here. This is evident as one drives behind school buses to Bridgewater Middle School through residential streets.)
  • Review roundabout criteria (though we have too much volume however)
  • Resurface pavement markings

And Commissioner Boyd will look into changing the County policy to have a school zone out on CR535.

Deputy Spear concluded that there are “compounding issues” that involve the O.C. Sheriff’s Department, the County Commission, school officials, and County Engineering, and that no fix will happen overnight. He promised to work with the principal of Sunset Park to make entering and exiting the school a smoother transition. I have seen an upgraded presence of OCSO since the meeting.

I also want to add that after the meeting, it was mentioned by a deputy that the sidewalks leading to the school are not wide enough for bicycling.

The meeting illustrated a couple of issues to me, again:

  • What seems to often be a lack of coordination between planners, transportation staff, and school siting agents
  • How we design for extremes. The turning radius designed to such an extreme is really no different than building a parking lot so large to accommodate Christmas Eve shopping volumes or cutting trees on a small street to accommodate two large buses passing each other.

I envision a day that many more can safely walk to school from some of these neighborhoods just across the “freeway”.

Author: Tory