Monday, August 23, 2004

Walk to school? Not in Fairfield

No sidewalks, no buses mean more traffic

By John Kiesewetter
Enquirer staff writer

FAIRFIELD - Walk? Don't walk!

'Don't walk' is the warning Fairfield Police have issued to the 2,300 Fairfield Senior High School students who won't have bus service when classes begin Wednesday. Busing was eliminated for grades 9-12 in a budget cut after two levy failures since March.

No sidewalks were built along North Gilmore Road or Holden Boulevard when the $25.6 million school opened in 1997. The city doesn't require sidewalks in the area - a policy called outdated by at least one City Council member.

A crosswalk on Ohio State Route 4 at Holden Boulevard near Fairfield High School leads to dirty grass but no sidewalk.
(Enquirer photo/GLENN HARTONG)
"Don't try to walk to school. There is no safe way to walk to the high school along Gilmore Road or Holden Boulevard," said Police Lt. Ken Colburn, who has worked with the district on traffic plans for this week.

Students who cross Dixie Highway (Ohio 4) at the Gilmore Road crosswalk lights would have to walk two blocks along a road that will be very congested from 6 to 7 a.m. Wednesday, he said.

Mayor Erick Cook, a former Fairfield administrator and high school principal, has heard from many parents since the school board canceled busing for older students.

"My advice to them is: If at all possible, find a ride to school," Cook said.

Fairfield isn't alone. In recent years, new Monroe, Lebanon, Little Miami and Indian Hill high schools have been built on large tracts at the edge of the community - without sidewalks - which require most students to arrive by car or bus.

Fairfield mother Kim Hargrave isn't thrilled about her son Matt, 15, possibly riding to or from school with his friends.

"That's the last thing I want, a car full of teenagers. You know what I mean?" Hargrave said.

A 1984 Fairfield ordinance exempts sidewalks on North Gilmore Road, Holden Boulevard and busy five-lane Dixie Highway south from Gilmore Road.

But few sidewalks exist along Dixie Highway north of Gilmore Road, including in front of the Freshman High School and Central Elementary School, north of the Nilles Road crosswalk.

That's of equal concern to police and school officials, because more than 800 freshmen without buses will be headed to classes at 7 a.m. Wednesday, as morning rush hour begins on Dixie Highway.

"This city is not pedestrian friendly," said Bob Polson, freshman school principal.

An estimated 500 additional cars could be on the roads taking students too young to drive to the freshman building, Colburn said. More than 47,000 vehicles - including school buses - used Dixie Highway between Gilmore and Nilles roads "on a normal day" four years ago, according to John Belanger, city traffic analyst.

"We really don't know what to expect," Colburn said.

Freshmen walking from nearby neighborhoods will be instructed by police to cross the five-lane highway at either the Nilles Road or Hicks Boulevard crosswalks.

"We want to make sure kids don't do anything unsafe," said Robert Farrell, school superintendent.

Four police officers - plus administrators and teachers - will direct traffic in and around the freshman school.

If you're driving

Fairfield school officials have established these rules effective Wednesday:

• Senior High School: Student drivers must enter from Holden Boulevard. Parents driving children should enter from North Gilmore Road and drop them off by the athletic fields, and return to North Gilmore Road. Doors open at 6 a.m.; breakfast will be sold in the cafeteria. Classrooms open at 6:30 a.m. Classes begin at 7 a.m.

Student parking passes will be available 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and Tuesday in the cafeteria. Cost: $50.

• Freshman School: Drivers will be routed one-way through Stadium Drive (at the Dixie Highway-Nilles Road stoplight) to drop off children behind the school. Drivers may exit only by turning right on Donald Drive. No cars may enter from Donald Drive. Students will be picked up after classes behind the school using the same traffic pattern.

Doors open at 6 a.m.; light breakfast items will be sold in the cafeteria. Classrooms open at 6:45 a.m. Classes begin at 7 a.m.



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