Talking traffic to DeLaveaga school, commute solutions

Dear Street Smarts, Q: I was interested to read your Street Smarts column about how school traffic has been affected by the La Fonda overpass construction. Ms. Speiser may be accurate in her efforts to help ease traffic by encouraging alternative transportation. But what Ms. Speiser and all the other deciding powers failed to realize is that DeLaveaga Elementary School has a unique bilingual Dos Alas Program which draws students from all over the county, my son being one of them. For kids who live on the Westside or in Aptos, it's simply not feasible for an 8-year-old to ride his bike to school. So we drive. The traffic that backs up every day around the Morrissey/Pacheco overpass loop is terrible. It is mind-boggling to me that nobody has tried to do anything about this. Cars sit in that line are backed up probably 50 cars deep for nearly 10 minutes before they pass the stop sign at Rooney/Morissey and Pacheco. Drivers have taken it upon themselves to establish a custom where cars line up along the right shoulder, allowing cars who want to enter the freeway have access. However, most of those who are trying to enter the freeway do not realize this and end up sitting in the line, too, before they realize what's going on. Then they pull out to the left, into the stream of oncoming cars who do know what's going on, creating a hazard that fortunately has not resulted in any accidents that I'm aware of. Meanwhile, cars that arrive at the intersection from the southbound offramp of Highway 1 are usually the only car at the stop sign and do not have to wait at all. I always wonder why nobody has installed a temporary stop light to adjust this issue, or better yet, a traffic cop to direct traffic and help ease the flow. Scott Cooper via email A: “Your reader brings up some interesting points about congestion near DeLaveaga Elementary School,” wrote Tegan Speiser and Karena Pushnik of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission in a prepared statement. “Everyone agrees that this area is a traffic hot spot, especially during the morning commute.” While the Highway 1 soquel/Morrissey Auxiliary Lanes project has contributed to an already problematic area, the hope is that the new La Fonda Bridge, which is to be complete before the 2013-14 school year, will alleviate some of those issues, they said. But the pair urged commuters to look at their options to help reduce congestion. “Congestion is a common challenge at virtually all activity centers that have specific start and end times,” Speiser and Pushnik said. “Almost every school and workplace, as well as other key activities, such as sports events, music festivals, etc., experience congestion for peak periods. Generally the short congestion period can be avoided and travel times shortened if travel occurs outside of the peak periods or if there are fewer vehicles transporting more people, either through ridesharing or arriving at the event by bike and on foot.” While gridlock continues in the DeLaveaga school area, “it would probably be much worse without the school-based transportation demand programs implemented by the RTC and other agencies as part of the Highway 1 Soquel/Morrissey Auxiliary Lanes project,” they said. “As noted in your article, these programs include: a shuttle; new sidewalks; encouragement/ incentives for bicycling, walking, carpooling and taking the bus to school; funding two new crossing guards (one at Fairmount & Morrissey and the other at Rooney & Pacheco); and a new school based carpool matching service for short and longer distances.” “The carpool program,” they continued, was offered in recognition of DeLaveaga's dual language immersion program that draws students from all over the county.” In regard to the Rooney and Pacheco intersection, options are complex, wrote Pushnik and Speiser. This intersection is frequented by “cars getting on and off of Highway 1, including neighborhood and school traffic, as well as school children on bicycles and foot,” they said. Their agency and the city investigated putting in a temporary signal and hiring a traffic police person, but that solution wasn't cost effective. “Long term options could include a signal and/or reconstructing the interchange,” the pair explained. “While funding for these improvements has not been identified, it is on the list of projects to be considered as funds become available. The RTC and other local governments with limited resources must balance the needs of the entire community to realize the 'biggest bang for the buck' in project and program decisions.” Until changes are made, Pushnik and Speiser encourage commuters to “avoid traveling at the peak, start your journey a little bit earlier, take turns driving your kids to school with your neighbors, bike or walk, eliminate driving distractions, and be patient. “The RTC understands that alternative travel options are not always a possibility for everyone,” they said. “However, when you are able to use alternatives, it helps ease not only your own commute, but also that of fellow community members.”  
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