Opinion: School bus policy needs to change before its too late
While I am pleased to have been quoted at the end of Greg Marku’s excellent article entitled, “Parents address bus policy distance concerns,” I must make one correction. I had said, “I almost got hit” by the car taking a left onto Noroton Avenue from Ledge Road while I was in the crosswalk. It is a minor correction, however, since I recall having read in this very paper within the past year that two other pedestrians have been hit in crosswalks at other, seemingly more benign intersections, including a Middlesex Road intersection possibly near one of the schools.
At the end of a school day this past year, my son’s Middlesex Middle School bus was rear-ended on Hecker Avenue, that section of which I noted at the board meeting is essentially an on ramp for I-95 north, by a car with out of state plates, the driver of which may have been more focused on the I-95 sign, and how to access the interstate, than the large school bus in front of it stopped at a stop sign the car’s driver was not anticipating. At the time I was relieved my son and his friends were protected by the large bus surrounding them from this likely low impact collision. At the time I did not realize that my son would be heading for a future unprotected walk from the high school during which such an impact would surely injure or kill him.
It is unfathomable to me that the board would even consider asking students to walk that treacherous walk to school when I, who have crossed many streets in multiple boroughs of New York City since childhood without fear, would decide to walk the long way to the train station from my home on the Town Hall side of Noroton Avenue, up Maple Street and over the Hollow Tree Ridge Road bridge, rather than risk my life one more time on the Noroton Avenue bridge, having found no safe way to walk it using any of the multiple permutations of that walk I have tried.
There is no way of walking over the Noroton Avenue bridge without crossing an on-ramp or off-ramp for I-95 or traffic heading to or from these ramps. That the dotted double yellow line drivers coming down the hill, some at quite a clip, follow as they take their left hand turns onto Hecker in search of I-95 northbound, runs right through the crosswalk without interruption, implying equity between car and pedestrian rather than pedestrian right of way, illustrates beautifully the hostility of the environment for pedestrians.
My heart broke last year as I saw a middle schooler on the southwest corner of Hecker waiting at the traffic light in a stance you would expect at the beginning of a 40 yard dash, looking at the cars to see where he might find an interruption in traffic in order to safely dash across Noroton Avenue to Maple. If only his parents could have seen him.
One has only to read the police blotter in this newspaper to see how often drunk and/or drugged drivers are stopped by Darien police after they have exited I-95 onto our streets, perhaps thinking Darien is a nice community in which to sleep off their impairments. Our students would be potentially encountering these sorts of drivers as they walk these nonlocal, service roads with easy access to drivers of all aptitudes and attitudes from Miami to Maine or beyond.
I did not know about this busing issue until a week before the board meeting when my friend and neighbor Kelly Gartrell informed me through a neighborhood-wide email. I had no time to research the subject and spoke off the cuff. If I was able to recall so many recent incidents without even trying, can one imagine what one would unearth with some research?
Another friend and neighbor who was not quoted in the article, but whose talk was far more worthy of note than mine, is Nicole Lyons who was quite prepared with facts concerning train schedules, sunrise and sunset data, and the average length of time an unladen adult takes to walk two miles. When she noted that the board is in violation of its own guidelines, she was told her time to talk had run out. Had I known what she was going to say, I would have allotted her my time. I wanted to hear more.
I encourage her to publish or present her argument in a more public format so we can all read and digest it. That students would be walking in the dark for an unsafe amount of time, while burdened with heavy bookbags, and possibly more with musical instruments and sports equipment, trying to dodge cars headed for I-95 and the train station during rush hour is clear - a clear and present danger.
We may literally live on the wrong side of the tracks, but I will not allow my son or any of the other children in my neighborhood to be treated as if they do figuratively. They will not walk through an area that even I will not walk through out of concern for my own safety.
This issue is no joke and the board must act accordingly. They cannot wait for a student to be injured or killed. It will be too late then, and I assure you the ramifications will be tremendous.