Idle Chatter About School Pickups

Last week, longtime Westporter David Gottlieb went for a walk.

Strolling along North Avenue, he saw a line of 20 or so cars. All were waiting to pick up Coleytown schoolchildren.

Most had their motors running.

For 20 or 30 minutes.

Cars on North Avenue, near Coleytown Elementary School. (Photo/David Gottlieb)

A couple of days later, Gottlieb saw a front page story in the New York Times. It described the city’s Citizens Air Complaint Program — a public health campaign  that pays people to report trucks parked and idling for more than 3 minutes (1 minute outside a school).

By submitting a video showing the engine is running, and the company name on the door, they collect 25% of any fine collected. The minimum penalty in New York is $350.

Connecticut has a similar law. Its limit is 3 minutes for “mobile sources.” The enforcing agency is not, however, local or state police departments; it’s the air bureau of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

(Police can enforce an idling regulation against school buses specifically. The fine is $117.)

Coleytown Middle and Elementary are not the only schools in Westport in which cars idle for long periods of time. They’re not even the only ones on North Avenue.

Cars lined up on Post Road West, near Kings Highway Elementary School. (Photo/Dick Lowenstein)

During COVID, more parents than ever drove their children to school, then picked them up. The trend has continued.

Is idling near schools a problem, a nuisance, or an issue really not worth worrying about? In the absence of real enforcement — the state DEEP will not come prowling in Westport — is there anything to be done?

Parents pick up their kids for many reasons — including the unintended consequences of starting and ending school 30 minutes later than previously. Are there any solutions to the rising rates of non-bus riding?

Click “Comments” below. Please include specifics of your situation. And please: Don’t judge others. Be kind. We’re looking for answers, not a lot of smoke and hot air.

The law is clear, at Staples High school.

30 responses to “Idle Chatter About School Pickups

  1. Bruce Fernie SHS 1970

    Kids no longer walk home?
    Kids no longer ride their bikes home?
    Kids no longer ride buses home?

    This should be fun…

  2. Peter Mihalick

    First of all many westporters think signs don’t apply to them. Town trucks idle constantly when they stop at Cumberland farms. School buses idle for long periods in the imperial parking lot. What can be done? Why can’t the Westport police issue citations if there are laws on the books that should prevent this. Unfortunately people learn the “hard” way. By getting fined!

  3. Toni Simonetti

    We have noticed this at at least three schools, two on extremely busy streets (Post Rd west and Riverside). It creates a dangerous situation! The drivers of the school-bound cars have been seen to be reckless as well, trying to get in line. This problem is not just at schools; Starbucks on Post Rd. East also. Combine this practice of lining up on a busy thoroughfare with some other crazy and extremely dangerous driving situations I’ve seen … and it’s no wonder there is an inordinate number of injurious collisions in this town. Many times I’ve seen young adults with children in the car driving recklessly. What happened to common sense and courtesy among drivers in Westport?!

    Back to the school idling lineups: there simply cannot be that many kids who can’t take the bus! please Westport PD, start giving tickets.

  4. Rindy Higgins

    As a substitute teacher in town, I’m well aware of the lines and lines of cars for school pickups, particularly the ones at CES and CMS. There they are lined up on both sides of the street, some idling, some engines off, some with car doors opening, and some kids scurrying across the street.Traveling buses and cars squeeze through the available space. It’s not just about the idling,it’s an accident waiting to happen.

  5. It’s not only at the schools but also at drive thrus like Starbucks.

  6. Melissa Ceriale

    I’ve made this same comment from the first day we moved to town here 25 years ago. Build sidewalks. All over town (with snowmelt built in, we do have the technology). Sidewalks would allow kids within a neighborhood to WALK to a common bus stop vs busses stopping at every single door. Bus rides would then drop to a normal 20 min ride to school, something every mother in town would love. Current bus routes take much longer and every parent wishes to give their child the most sleep possible in the mornings. Just think how many less cars (and less grumpy parents in lines) we could envision.
    People like to say that Westport is an arts-friendly town. Let’s make it a walking-friendly town. Heck, we live 1 mile from the town center but can’t walk back and forth to a restaurant for dinner. No sidewalk and no street lighting.

    • Alison Patton

      Yes! I love this idea: Make Westport a walker-friendly – and I would add bicycle-friendly – town. what would it take to make this gorgeous seaside town a community of pedestrians – healthier for us and for the planet!

  7. Richard Johnson

    Like so many things people constantly complain about in Westport, the easy solution is to have a police department that enforces laws. I have literally never once seen Westport PD conducting traffic enforcement. Not once. We all know what the problems are, what time of day they tend to arise, and what needs to be done. It’s not rocket science. Query what exactly is going on given that this is a town that is almost completely devoid of major crime.

    • Jonathan Alloy

      Come to the corner of Easton and North between 8:30-9 am on a school day — there are multiple officers conducting traffic there every day, rain or shine. They do a hard job well and I personally appreciate how they improve safety. They absolutely are there and I’m glad!

  8. Mark Mathias

    There have always been lines of cars dropping off and picking up children at our schools since I moved here 20+ years ago. A few years ago, the Board of Education changed the school start times, making them later. (Note that I served on the Board of Education for 16 years, but was not on the BoE when this decision was made.) The idea is that later start times help students learn better. The flip side, of course, is that schools get out later. This later dismissal impacts after school programs such as sports, music, lessons and activities and, as students age, jobs.

    Rather than ticket people now, I suggest a survey of the people who are dropping off and picking up their students. This could be done by walking car to car in the lines and asking the drivers why they are picking up their children instead of having them take the bus. Someone with a clipboard could simply check off their reason(s) and move on to the next car.

    That information would be very valuable to the school administration as well as police (for traffic) and could be used to address the issue. Having information is key.

  9. Stacy Prince

    Melissa Ceriale is right. I read somewhere that the Westport Women’s Club’s original mission was to build sidewalks. Oh, I do wish we had more sidewalks! Was just thinking that yesterday as I noticed folks walking along Bayberry. <– Dangerous.

    Richard Johnson is right. With so many well-paid police officers on staff, I've never understood why we can't have "lifestyle" enforcement, especially as officers on duty can stop said enforcement as soon as something more pressing comes up.

  10. Fred Roberts

    Did no one above read the part about the idling law is only enforced by the State Department of Environmental Protection? Westport police have no ability to enforce this. Don’t throw them under the bus (unless it is a school bus that is idling) due to not reading the whole story.

    • Toni Simonetti

      Creating a traffic hazard; standing on Post Road where there is no parking; these are offenses, no?

  11. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    The answer is simple. Petition ECK (Energy Czar Kerry) to move the electrification target to 7/4/2022. After that, it’s off to the Russian Front for any recalcitrants. Das Vadanya Comrades!!!

  12. Jonathan Alloy

    So a) it’s been winter so we need to run the heat, b) we don’t have sidewalks so kids can’t walk home, c) the bus system has been in chaos because of a driver shortage, d) this is elementary school – we’re talking about 5-10 year old children, not teenagers, and e) the dynamics of pick-up means you have to wait regardless of when you arrive unless you want your kids to sit waiting for you for an hour. To me, this is a non-issue — there are problems we need to address, but this isn’t one of them. Sending police after this is a prime example of misusing public resources and dramatic overcriminalization. I don’t want our taxes and cops wasting our time and money this way. Folks, there are really much better things to worry about, and I encourage you to spend your time improving our town on those.

    • Toni Simonetti

      A traffic citation is a civil infraction, not criminal. This is not criminalization.

      • Jonathan Alloy

        It’s not about the ticket per se, it’s about social dynamics of giving cops carte blanche justification for citing people. These types of enforcement actions demonstrably result in unequal outcomes for vulnerable populations. It’s been months of freezing temps and we expect parents to not have heat while they wait for their kids because it would take the bus an hour to get them home, and then a cop sees something they don’t like and all of a sudden we have a serious situation. No thank you. This is the opposite direction we should be going. Let’s get to the root cause. If the town needs more money for bus drivers or sidewalks, let’s provide that. Treat the cause, not the symptom.

        • Bruce Fernie SHS 1970

          ‘unequal outcomes for vulnerable populations’ I forgot about all the vulnerables in Westport that the Cops will enjoy going after… This traffic and safety issue and all of a sudden it becomes a social justice issue… get real.

    • Toni Simonetti

      Also the traffic situation in Westport IS one of the “better things to worry about.”

  13. Mandatory carpooling, even if it requires parents to support each other’s after school activities.

  14. Michael Calise

    Obviously we have a serious school busing problem which needs to be addressed. But, on the other hand it always has been somewhat mystifying to me as to why it is impossible, in the eyes of some, to be ambulatory if they don’t have concrete under their feet!

  15. Clark Thiemann

    There will always be a few kids who have somewhere to go after school and need to be picked up directly, but we should incent as many kids as possible in town to take the bus. My daughter usually gets home about 5 minutes after a neighbor who picks their child up directly at the school each day, which for us is a great tradeoff versus sitting on the side of Riverside Ave. for an hour a day. Adding the app that other towns have which provides a gps of where your child’s bus is would make it even more convenient. I can’t imagine all these parents want to sit in their car for hours a day. Taking 25-30 cars off the road at each school would make a real difference to traffic in town.

    In terms of walking, the way at least Saugatuck is districted, every kid lives on the other side of the river meaning that walking is not really an option (maybe a kayak service from Grace Salmon Park?).

  16. Ciara Webster

    There really is no easy or ideal solution as everyone’s situation is very different.
    My 4 children are all in gfa and many of the students there are coming from remote areas without access to the bus.
    Some if they could take the bus would have extraordinarily long commutes.
    Parents are regularly an hour in the line, and therefore idling in freezing temperatures is just a necessary evil.
    The line also moves albeit slowly so in order to get cars off the beachside road it’s necessary to move snail pace as and when possible. Otherwise it causes chaos for people trying to get around the traffic built up on the road.
    There is not really an ideal solution. I certainly feel the frustration of the neighbors as they sit in this long line just trying to get home.
    Many of us now park at the train station at greens farms( only now because there are fewer commuters so we can park and turn our cars off while our children walk down to the train station and we avoid the long lines and minimize the traffic chaos.
    I believe at the top of the line where students are waiting to be picked up and therefore congregating the drivers do in fact turn off their engines as best they can. Though it’s not always possible when the line starts to move.
    I’m not sure there are any ideal solutions for this problem.
    Sports also mean many parents need to pick their kids up and bring them to their activities or they would miss them ( buses don’t get them home in time)
    I sincerely doubt that anyone wants to waste gas and cause even more pollution, but it’s just not a simple fix.

  17. Susan Iseman

    Here I go again. I have remarked endlessly about idling. I continue to see offending vehicles idling in shopping center plazas (guessing these individuals buy lunch and eat in their vehicles) I have entered the store, shopped, and come out sometimes 30-45 minutes later AND THEY ARE STILL SITTING IN THEIR VEHICLES IDLING. At the town beaches, there are also idling offenders, sitting in their cars, watching the submarine races.

  18. Great question, concerns and ideas from this post and its comments. I especially liked the survey for idlers and the GPS bus tracker app ideas. FYI Westport Public Schools leadership is currently examining how to improve our town’s school bus system — to get rid of empty buses rolling through town using gas and costing money. Also, First Selectwoman Jen Tooker plus town fire, police, engineer and P&Z professionals are hosting Traffic & Safety meetings at Town Hall by district this spring in order to collect residents’ input and formulate solutions that address these and similar issues. Dates for these meetings have been reported on 06880 and are on the town website. Our District 9 Traffic & Safety meeting is on April 28. I hope to see my neighbors there! – Nancy Kail, RTM Member

  19. Don Willmott

    When I attended Coleytown El back in the ’70s, the “walkers” left school five minutes before the bus riders so they could get a head start on their hikes home. One of the walkers was my friend Craig Walker, and we thought that was hilarious.

  20. Ciara Webster

    Fortunately for my children, I’m not planning on subjecting them to long bus rides they don’t deserve… they work their behinds off,, they partake in sports and I personally don’t care about the begrudgers.
    I will idle all day long so my kids don’t have a disgraceful and long bus ride as should every parent.
    I love that this is my right .
    I’ll still recycle though nobody in this town does !
    Yours green

    • Susan Iseman

      Ciara, if you really think it’s your right “to idle all day long” and pollute the air, I feel sorry for your children.

  21. Carl Addison Swanson

    Face it, the sleepy little artisan town of 50’s of which I grew up is long gone, replaced by a bustling NYC suburb full of seemingly rich entitled folks who believe because they can afford to live here, they get to do whatever. The aforementioned Ciara’s comment is a point in fact. We used to have FUN taking the bus or riding our bikes to Coleytown. Read Gladwell on how spoiling your kids may just be counterproductive in the long run.

  22. Susan Hopkins

    Interesting comments ..

    Hello to David Gottlieb who I worked for on Mott Avenue in 1970 when both of us were a bit younger!