Editorial: Congestion at Hoover
Op-Ed · September 14, 2012

With all of the excitement of a new school year, West Branch again started off with style, from Meet the Teams to Locker Night and, new this year, orienting fifth-graders to the middle school and presenting all fifth-through-12th-graders with new laptops.

But one tradition that returned this year continues to cause anxiety in parents of young children: Dropping off and picking up pupils in front of Hoover Elementary.

The City of West Branch and West Branch Community Schools need to find a way to significantly improve this dangerous situation.

To be fair, they have not ignored it.

Last year, the school district sacrificed several parking spaces to create a drop-off lane and then repainted the remaining parking lines on the west side to strongly encourage those who drive south on Oliphant Street to continue south after they back out.

This past month, the city installed a new stop sign for northbound Oliphant at Orange Street, creating a four-way stop and making it safer for children crossing at that intersection.

These steps have helped, but we still have many parents — because they have little choice — parking on the east side of Oliphant and many children crossing two very busy lanes of traffic. Add to that the number of motorists backing out nearly blind because of the high number of SUVs and minivans, almost all of which have tinted side windows.

It’s a nightmare.

The argument that no one has ever been hurt is small comfort. That no one has been hurt is a testament to attentive drivers, not a good system. We should have both.

Former Police Chief David Bloem advocated for implementing a one-way, southbound street in front of Hoover Elementary. But right now city leaders are cool to this idea, especially after adding the new stop sign.

They are, however, considering making Oliphant and Main a permanent, three-way stop. Right now there are two flip-up stop signs used only at the start and end of the school day.

Here’s one suggestion: A temporary one-way zone.

• Change the flip-up stop signs to one-way signs that direct northbound traffic away from Oliphant — it may be necessary to plop a traffic cone in the way of northbound traffic. Teach parents to come in from Orange Street, and make Oliphant a one-way road for just the start and end of the school day.

• Disallow non-staff parking on the east side, but create parking spaces on the north side of the football field for those who need to get out of their cars. Those parents then can help their children get across the street at the existing crosswalk, which is already staffed by a crossing guard.

• The entire west side of Oliphant, from Orange to Main, turns into a drop-off/pick-up zone. With both lanes driving southbound, passengers all exit from the right and cars may safely pass each other on the left. The east lane should be for passing only — not a continuous route to Main Street. All traffic continues to move in one direction, and no backing up is necessary.

• Find a way to alert southbound traffic, perhaps with signs or a flashing light, that two-way traffic will soon resume. Normal, single-lane southbound traffic needs to resume before northbound traffic can be allowed on Oliphant, to avoid accidents.

This may not be the most efficient way to get children dropped off quickly, but it is a lot safer than the current system.

The city and school need to make a safer drop-off/pick-up at Hoover a priority, and it is nearly as important as the sidewalk project that gets children off the streets.

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