School Traffic Drives Residents Crazy

This was the scene Tuesday on Post Road West, at 3:30 p.m. Cars lined up from Burr Street to the light by Kings Highway North. It looked like Cape Cod on a summer Friday. Or Woodstock in 1969.

(Photo/Dick Lowenstein)

Dick Lowenstein thought it was remarkable enough to send to “06880.”

But anyone who passes by Kings Highway Elementary at the end of school — or any other one in Westport — knows it’s a daily occurrence.

Bus ridership is down. Personal transportation is way, way up.

“Is it because of parents’ fear of COVID?” Dick asks. “Or are there not enough bus drivers?”

It’s a great question.

So, “06880” readers: Have at it.

Do you drive your kids to school? If so, why? If not, why not?

What are the upsides — and downsides — to all these one-kid-per-car trips? Are there alternatives?

How long will it last? Any solutions? What can schools — and parents, and everyone else — do to ease the crunch?

Click “Comments” below. And please: Be objective and constructive!

Bedford Middle School traffic. (Photo/Adam Vengrow)

55 responses to “School Traffic Drives Residents Crazy

  1. It would be interesting to also ask if these are the same people who line their car’s up at the Starbucks drive through window everyday and what is their position on public policy to slow global warming….very interesting?

    • For many, it’s the combination of covid and the late end times we have for elementary schools. I have two unvaccinated kids and a “shorty” bus that can get very crowded. I have no information about my bus driver’s vaccination status since the drivers are not district employees. And either way the bus is just too small for our comfort. So that doesn’t work for our family. Having my bus fight through the traffic in this town to get them home when they would have no down time before their sports begin – after a long day in masks – is also unappealing. We end school very late and the overall traffic patterns at that time of day make it impossible to use the bus most days, regardless of covid risks that some just don’t want to take. I also don’t have time to wait for the middle school bus and then get my elementary schoolers given I can’t guarantee that bus will be back in time. And then there is just the simple calculation of extra mask time. Another cumulative hour in a mask just doesn’t appeal to my kids.
      With all of that said, last year I was involved in a very aggressive road rage incident on North Avenue with my kids in the car. A driver was clearly enraged over the traffic. Tried to block my car from getting to the drop off line and then starting screaming f bombs at my entire family, including my five year old son. I understand people don’t like the traffic, but people should really think about how little parents like managing the safety and well being of their unvaccinated kids who barely know school outside of pandemic life.
      Regarding the end times, when I first moved to this town CES had the only late end time. And the parents fought to change it specifically because it really hinders after school activity participation. We had that fight again before the pandemic and were all moved back to a late end time that simply doesn’t work for busy families that have to get multiple kids to multiple locations if they rely on a bus. That was a well known factor before the change was passed.
      A lot of these people complaining about the traffic would also never spend eight hours of their day in a mask trying to learn and then get on public transportation masked. So perhaps they should consider what that is like for a little kid.

      • Building on Gery’s COVID comments… a few years ago, the school bus monitors were cut from the budget. It seems unfair and unrealistic to expect a bus driver to drive safely and make sure a group of unvaccinated elementary school kids will sit in their assigned bus seats (per COVID protocols) and keep their masks on. For our family, the risk is too great.

        • I’ll just go ahead and say it. There was a time when there was no bus service for any kid who lived inside of 1 mile of school. We were “Walkers”. Our parents warned us to never talk to strangers and never accept a ride from a stranger. I don’t remember ever hearing of any dangerous incidents in my entire 12 years of being a “Walker”.

      • I am sure in a significant number of instances walking or biking would be a better option and go a long way towards traffic relief.

  2. I am a KHS parent. My kids take the bus and it is quite full in the morning. Because school lets out at 345, many families need to pick their children up to get to after school activities on time. Town soccer starts at 415/430 for some grades, others have dance practice, swim practice, or piano lessons. I’m sure COVID is a factor, but given the morning buses are quite full, I believe it’s the late dismissal time “driving”the traffic situation.

  3. I’m a GFS parent and I agree with Kim. My kids’ bus is quite full in the morning (almost too full with 3 kids to a seat) but the late dismissal time paired with the traffic around town gives parents no choice but to pick their kids up if they are to make it to their activities on time. Also, our bus has been very unreliable. Yesterday it broke down and their have been a couple mornings when it has arrived after the start of school.

  4. The school time change is why I am now one of those cars sitting on Post Road for 35+ minutes to pick up my daughter twice a week – or else she won’t make it to travel soccer practice. She takes the bus whenever possible, but since school ends (ridiculously) late now and extracurriculars have not changed times (they need as much sunlight as possible to get all the practices in) this is now my twice weekly routine. And I don’t like it.

    • It seems like car pools could reduce some of this traffic

      • Not possible for my family but thanks for the the suggestion!

      • We do carpools whenever possible but I have 3 kids. Like Gerri- I NEVER have one kid in my car. Yesterday I drove 6 kids to school after our bus broke down.

      • Elizabeth Thibault

        We love car pools, and frequently have a couple of kids on the street for morning drop off, but they don’t always work out in the afternoons.
        As everyone has noted, schedules are tight and if kids are not in the same school or going to the same after school activity, it’s not reasonable to be able to hit 2 school dismissals and 4 different activities. This is going to be compounded by the additional school clubs that are starting up.

  5. These are fascinating, eye-opening comments. Keep ’em coming!

  6. My son’s bus repeatedly picks up 25-30 minutes after school dismissal which means he arrives home almost an hour after school ends. That makes it impossible to get him to any activities on time. I also feel terrible that after a long school day he has to sit an extra 30 min to wait foe the bus. Why is his bus regularly late? Not enough drivers for routes or too much traffic?

  7. PS Dan, I never have one kid in my car 🙃That sounds luxurious.
    But why is the question “why are parents making this mess” when the real question is what is town leadership considering to get us out of it. I can bet most parents have hopes and dreams beyond moving into their cars for hours on end each day. We’d love to know how to reduce this problem.

    • Spot on Gerry. Town leadership (BOE) created this mess and now they’re all
      Jumping ship rather than sticking around to fix it.

  8. Public transport around town is generally non existent. I think it would be great if the town provided more options for teens specifically to get to/from to convenient locations around town, including school, the beach, downtown, and sports fields. Similar to the shuttle to/from the train station. That might not be a solution for the elementary kids and parents but it would alleviate a lot of other inefficient, pollution and traffic causing driving around for middle and high school teens and parents.

  9. I appreciate the later start times and understand that more sleep is actually more beneficial. We made a commitment to not over schedule our children and let them focus on school and play most days. I drive my children because last year there were missed school days due to being a close contact with a Covid positive case. If the whole classroom has to quarantine, the whole class moves to online learning. But if a student has to quarantine from bus exposure, that student misses out. Perhaps adjustments were made to decrease the missed learning hours but it’s not worth the possibility.

  10. Well, we knew this was coming!

    Before the pandemic, when the school start times were shifted to accommodate the high schoolers’ bio rhythms (rightfully so) and the argument was made that we couldn’t simply switch the elementary’s later start time with the HS because of bus costs… So everyone shifted later and now we see the consequences.

    It’s less than ideal for kids, families, traffic, town infrastructure, etc. Throw in Covid concerns and mask fatigue, and we have a real mess.

    Perhaps with this problematic situation gaining more visibility we can find the money and wherewithal to design a school start/end time strategy that works across all of the schools (not favoring one demographic). The 30 min later gain for teenagers is surely a net loss for many. The status quo is impacting everyone in town.

    • 100% this. People can talk about overscheduling (a family by family choice as to what makes their kids “happy and fulfilled”) walking or biking (not possible in many parts of Westport) or any of it. But this is easily solved with a few more buses, if memory serves, to alleviate the scheduling strain for the little kids that is, in fact, there to benefit the teens. And I have both ages. Westport opted not to do that and here is where we are. Especially with masks. (Which I am in favor of. Just not extra mask time if we can avoid it.)

  11. I have 3 in the system, SES, BMS and SHS. High school bus for my freshman is fine – it comes early in the morning and afternoon, with not a lot of riders. Middle and elementary school buses are crowded in the morning and unsupervised at all times. The late end times make afternoon buses a non-starter for anyone involved in after school activities. BMS and SES are on the same schedule, so picking up from both schools in the afternoon is a challenge, but still gets the kids home faster than if they took the bus. Some days I pull my middle schooler out early to get her to her after school activity on time. The BOE is to blame as the school times shift was incredibly short sighted and removal of monitors created an ideal environment for bullying and unruly behavior. No wonder the majority of them are not seeking re-election. They’ve created problems and now want someone else to clean them up.

    • I grew up in Westport during the baby boom. About 99% of the kids took took the bus or walked/biked. We had no bus monitors but I never suffered or witnessed bullying on the bus. (The schoolyards, restrooms, gyms..sometime.) Plus there was no formal anti-bullying regimen as there is today. I’d like to add my 3 kids never reported any bullying problem when they took the bus to Weston schools in 90’s and early 2000s, also without monitors. I take you for your word that there’s a problem today, but I wonder why?

      • Agree with Peter Blau’s experience. I was a “walker” to Staples and my children were students in the Weston school system from “K” to Senior!
        “Spot on” Peter!

  12. I have my kids take the bus as often as possible. But since the time was changed for their elementary school, the bus gets to my house way too late for them to get to their after school activities.
    Most parents I’ve talked to are dealing with the same situation. Changing the elementary school start times without taking afterschool activities into consideration has created a big problem.

  13. Two facts i’ve witnessed:

    1) “The school run” is a nationwide, even global, phenom . I see it at the middle-school 1/2 mile from my new house in North Carolina, in a community much more middle-class and less entitled than Westport.

    2) It started way before Covid. Riverside Ave’s had at least 1/4 mile of cars waiting to drop off kids at Saugatuck El every morning for years.
    (I also witnessed it in London, 20 years ago, where despite the excellent public transportation, there was a surge in child muggings.)

    I assume the root cause is a combination of a) two-career households, with both parents in their cars at school time, making a drop-off more convenient; b) the extreme risk-aversion of today’s parents, petrified of child-kidnapping and pedestrian and bike accidents, before Covid became their latest worry.

    What is clear is that this is not a good thing either for the environment or for the self-reliance of kids. School administrators — notoriously averse to parental conflict — need to applying incentives to lure more kids back onto the bus.

    • Peter, we don’t need incentives, nor do we need to welcome more risk into our lives. If we had safe, monitored buses which operated in a timely manner corresponding to a well thought out school schedule which supports our desire for our kids to participate in after school activities, we’d use the bus.

      • Alex,

        If I recall, the school schedule change is not unique to Westport, but in response to a nationally-held concern that schoolchildren need more sleep, with lots of local parents advocating for the change.

        I happen to be skeptical of this concern; for one thing, there was little evidence that kids ended up getting any more sleep as a result of the change.

        Still, just because it’s a decision you and I oppose, it’s wrong to attack the volunteer public servants who served on the BOE at the time.

        School systems are prone to follow nationwide trends, and some of these trends turn out to be wrong: like “new math” and “whole language” reading — or even the unnecessarily long delay in bringing kids back to the classroom during Covid, despite the rather low health risk to children and reachers, and the massive evidence that remote learning wasn’t working…especially for low-income kids.

        Compared to these disasters, a 30-minute shift in school schedules is not a very big deal.

  14. Elizabeth Thibault

    First, most of us DETEST having to go to school to drop off or pick up our kids, but the bus situation is untenable as it is.

    For BMS, the published schedule for our bus is comedic on paper, and tragic in reality. They give the bus 10 minutes to reach the last stop from the far corners of the South Compo/Longshore area, to across the Post Road, up North Ave, to BMS. (Even driving, with no traffic, anyone knows this takes 17-20 minutes. You would have to leave here around 7:55 to get to school before the bell, but the bus doesn’t show up until 8:25!) Add in the morning commute traffic, which isn’t low despite many of us now working from home, and the bus is often *25-55 minutes* LATE at pickup in the MORNING. Many of us are getting “your child is absent” calls from the school, when we put our kids on the bus 30 minutes prior. These kids are missing their entire first period and parts of their second period, which because of the rotating class schedule, impacts every single subject, because the bus fiasco is a daily occurance.

    Then in the afternoons, it’s the same delay. You never know when the bus will show up, but it averages to drop off by 4:15PM. This is a full hour after dismissal. As others have detailed, we need to get kids to activities: sports, clubs, tutoring, volunteering, etc… and waiting on a bus that may or may not show up is impossible. Because the elementary school kids are dependent on the busses to finish their HS and MS runs, any delays cascade and our neighbors getting their younger children have collected them from the bus at almost 5PM on a couple of days. *5 PM!!!*

    The education of most of our children is impacted by the bus situation. Repeated calls and emails to the transportation coordinator have largely been met with silence. On the off chance that someone has been able to get her on the phone, there have been multiple excuses on the same call, some of which have been demonstratively false. We’re told there was traffic, but one of us was able to go pick up the kids after the bus was supposed to drop the kids off, and return home with them, and the bus STILL hadn’t made it’s way to our street yet. Then we’re told the driver called in, but when the bus arrived, it was the normal driver. Another excuse has been that the route isn’t optimized for the conditions this year. There is NO TRANSPARENCY from DATTCO or the coordinator. Honesty would go a long way, but we’ve been promised the issues would be fixed, but we’re on the 4th week of school, and there is no resolution. This is a hot potato that has everyone pointing the finger at someone else to fix. Where is the responsibility?

    As others have mentioned, much of this is related to the well intentioned but poorly planned school time changes. This problem isn’t unique to Westport either. Norwalk had changed their start times, but because this caused such huge logistical issues. (https://www.thehour.com/news/article/Norwalk-switches-back-school-start-times-after-16462275.php) Maybe this wasn’t such an issue last year, when many children were in distance learning and many clubs and activities were put on hiatus because of the pandemic, but it’s now in front of our face and we have to deal with it.

    We have choices as to what could help alleviate these problems:
    * Endure additional cars on the road and accept it as pushing the responsibility and costs directly to the families, but no additional tax costs to taxpayers. Time is lost by those families and others who use those routes, and the homeowners near the schools.
    * Find more money to get additional busses on the road and optimise the routes, including paying the drivers a fair wage that allows them to remain in this role. This would require the BOE and RTM/BOF to find the funds to solve these problems. This doesn’t seem likely in an election year.
    * Revert the school times back to the previous schedule, until a more workable solution can be found. This might be cost neutral, but still not optimal for the teenagers who the BOE was trying to benefit with their changes.

    What other solutions could there be? We’d love to hear it.

    • Thanks, Elizabeth, for this very thoughtful comment. I don’t see additional buses as a solution, though. Dattco — like many other bus companies in the state — is finding it very hard to find drivers. It’s a huge problem. which simply compounds and exacerbates all the other moving parts.

      • To paraphrase a smarter economist than me – ” When I can’t buy a Audi cheap, no calls it an Audi shortage, but when you can’t find cheap labor, all of sudden there is a labor shortage”

        • Mike, I agree with the sentiment, but the truth us people ARE talking about new car shortages all the time right now, and the issue is supply chain interruptions due to Covid, not automakers paying too little for those components. Similarly, necessary Covid relief measures have made it possible for people to stay out of the workforce for longer than they would otherwise have done. This not only affects low-wage workers. My plumbing contractor pays starting wages of $30/hr and still can’t get enough help.

        • BTW, according to Indeed.com, Dattco is paying about $20/hr for bus drivers plus a $3,000 starting bonus. While this is not a stellar wage in Ffld County, I think the bigger issue is people not having the required licensing which requires some training and testing,

  15. It seemed clear to me that when the BOE changed school start times, elementary kids were used as a plug to make the desired changes work for SHS. Starting the elementary day at 9:00 is ridiculous not just because younger kids get up early (and wilt by 3:45). 9:00 is ridiculous because younger kids *need supervision* — making it completely unworkable for households with 2 working parents, let alone working parents who commute.

    As for kids walking to school by themselves, I’m all for it, but it’s not possible without some infrastructure like sidewalks, crosswalks, and crossing guards…which are lacking most places in Westport. (Moreover, we live in a world where busybodies call the cops on 12 year old kids going to the park unsupervised, despite the fact the child abduction is exceedingly rare and decreasing over time.)

  16. OMG – Can you please talk to a parent in the Bridgeport schools, where my wife worked for years? There, buses were provided only for kids living more than a mile from school, and since parents often can’t afford cars, the kids take real risks: crime, crossing streets where drivers ignore stop signs, etc.

    If bus schedules are somewhat chaotic in Westport right now, what with the labor shortages and other Covid disruptions, can you imagine how bad it is in Bridgeport, where all public services are inferior and a corrupt government doesn’t often respond to complaints.

    You want a school bus system that meets Swiss railway standards of timeliness, but you can’t always get what you want…especially during a pandemic.

    • Bridgeport has sidewalks… I walked as a kid in suburban Chicago along SIDEWALKS! Westport has hardly any sidewalks and tons of distracted and aggressive drivers going way to fast on curvy roads. I live in Greens Farms and with Waze there are often out of town commuters trying to save 5 min by speeding on residential roads.

      • I agree.‘I’d love to see sidewalks —or paved paths in the more rural sections — prioritized over other amenities like subsidized commuter vans that drive around nearly empty.

        • We used to cut through people’s yards on our way to school. Now everyone here is fenced in and they’ll call cop if you do that. Not very neighborly….

          • Short response to this is that we’ve also located our schools in a way that doesn’t incentivize walking to school. Every kid in the Saugatuck School district lives on the other side of the river. 40 years ago my neighborhood would have gone to school on Bridge Street, which would be an easy walk, now it would be roughly 3 miles on a mix of Imperial Ave, Route 1 and Riverside Ave to make it to school. Don’t even ask about walking to the middle schools which are both ~5 miles from downtown.

  17. There may be a mix of reasons for the traffic, but even if you grow comfortable with riding the bus during Covid (which my kids do), late dismissal time is for sure a big obstacle to make it on time to after school activities; that gets further exacerbated by busses running late…which, to some extent, may be the result of heavy traffic created by parents needing to pick up because of the late dismissal time…and the buses running late!! It is a maddening snowballing situation!! I appreciate that for high-schoolers to start school earlier would be troublesome given longer nights of homework and activities which make every minute of sleep very precious. But could we have the elementary schools start earlier? I think in general younger kids are up much earlier anyways.

  18. I am surprised that the absence of bus monitors seems to be a concern for some of those waiting in endless lines. Perhaps PTA could recruit sufficient parent volunteers to train as monitors. Each would ride a bus with one of their kids for a one day every week or so to assure the well being of their child and the others on the ride.

    I fear the current traffic congestion will result in tragedy as a child dashes into the pick up area as cars move forward.

  19. Require that parents carpool if they want or need to pick up or drop off their kids from school by car. Require they provide info on their carpool schedule to the school in advance to confirm they are doing it and to confirm that the carpooling kids’ parents consent. Will this require additional administrative hassles for schools and parents? Yup. But there is no solution to this problem that wouldn’t. Seems easier than, say, doubling the buses or changing the school schedules around further. It reduces traffic, reduces the toll on the environment, and reduces the burden on bus drivers.

  20. This does not seem to be environmentally friendly…take the school bus, or ride the bicycle (perfect weather now)!

  21. Teach your kid to cough/sneeze into their hands or elbow or shirt and it will be about the same benefit as wearing a mask, catching droplets/spray (And to clean hands after). Obviously if someone is coughing/sneezing due to illness, they probably should not be in school, or on a bus. Sitting in a classroom all day and then a bus after, in a room with others, with a cloth mask on, if someone has the virus, its spreading, cloth mask or no cloth mask.

  22. A few additional thoughts. Some children are being picked up to attend therapy appointments after school like OT, PT, Speech, etc. – so it’s not just a bunch of overscheduled, overachieving children/parents.

    Also, for those requesting or demanding that parents carpool, this is generally not an option as car seats are required by law. Parents’ vehicles are set up with the car seats needed for their families and these are not easily switched out to accomodate different types of car seats for different aged/sized children. My car, for example, seats an elementary school aged child and a toddler in appropriate seats for their age. We do not have room to drive another elementary school aged child – unless of course those demanding I carpool want me to trade in my small, gas-efficient crossover SUV and get a Suburban or Escalade?

  23. I am speaking for the elementary schools: they used to dismiss kids to the parents in the cafeteria. parents would park their car and leave as soon as they got their kids (so cars did not have to wait in line on the street). Can we go back to that process safely now? I support the “walkers” concept in theory but in practice there are not enough sidewalks to do that safely.

    • Perhaps Assumption Church would allow Kings Highway parents to park in the church lot in the afternoon and pick up their children as “walkers.” There is a sidewalk on the northern side of Burr Road, so parents could walk with their children safely to the lot. The only stipulation would be that cars exiting the church parking lot can’t exit towards Post Road. I realize this creates more traffic on Riverside but it may help the situation overall.

      • Assumption Church has two preschools running and dismissing at well in the afternoon (which doesn’t help traffic in the area either).

      • I agree allowing parents to park and pick up rather would reduce the line of cars in the street but they sent an email specifically saying parents are not allowed to park their car and have their child dismissed as “walker” – not sure why ?

  24. CT has a mandate for school bus transport k-12.If this was changed there could be better coverage for Elem and middle school and less for high school Some communities charge for school bus services after 9th grade .Perhaps Wheels could run an activity bus from Staples to accommodate after school activities Many countries have no school busses and kids have to use public transport .The other day the school car traffic and non school traffic backed up from Kings Highway and Post Rd all the way to Clinton Ave and Main Not a joke as I was sitting in it.Also adding to traffic woes are accidents on 95 which push the traffic onto US 1 If one does not know the back roads you are stuck.

  25. It would be good for Westport’s Traffic Authority to weigh in on this and other traffic related snafu’s.

    Isn’t that the Board of Selectmen?

  26. I went to school in Kampala, Uganda aged nine. It was a dangerous time in Uganda. One morning gun men held up both my parents on a pot holed road. I had to flee. Luckily we were all unharmed.

  27. Jen Meerow Berniker

    We need more sidewalks. And we need more quality, organized, even competitive after school activities that happen AT THE KIDS SCHOOL. We pay these outside companies tons of money so that we can spend our free time or nanny dollars carting them around in a traffic jam. It feels insane.

Leave a Reply