Traffic Congestion in the AHS Parking Lot

An+above+view+of+AHS%2C+showing+the+student+parking+lot+right+of+the+fields.+From+Google+Earth.+

An above view of AHS, showing the student parking lot right of the fields. From Google Earth.

Sera Sabol, Editorial Board

On Jan. 6, 2022, Arlington High School (AHS) was on a late start schedule due to snow, leading to exorbitant traffic approaching the high school. Traffic stretched from the intersection of Crown Ridge Blvd. and Highway 9 to the next intersection north on Highway 9 — at the bottom of the hill. This traffic led to many students getting to class late.

Instances of traffic this severe are often caused by unpredictable events like the snow or an unexpected accident. This is not the case in the afternoons, where traffic is a daily occurrence for AHS students and staff. 

The fundamental cause of the traffic in the afternoons is the large amount of the student population that drives itself to school.

“We have approximately 425 parking spaces for students at Arlington High School and at a school of [about] 1,600 [or] 1,700 students. You have to figure at least half of them are student drivers, so we are only able to provide parking for a small amount of our student drivers,” said Alan Boatman, an assistant principal at Arlington High School.

This need for parking is only going to grow in the following years as the population of students attending AHS grows. 

“The number of students in our student population grows… This increases the number of student drivers in the parking lot and the number of parent drivers that are dropping their students off,” said Brian Lewis, the executive director of operations for Arlington Public Schools. “The parking lot was designed for 400 cars and this was in 2003.” 

An above view of AHS and the surrounding area, highlighting the possible road expansions that could minimize traffic congestion after school in red. From Google Earth.

A proposed road on the south side of the campus could connect Crown Ridge Blvd. and Burn Rd., possibly mitigating the traffic from backing up during dismissal. (Shown in red on the right of the above image)

“The city is looking at building or improving a road at the south end of the campus… off of Crown Ridge Blvd. So that could be another way out,” said Lewis. “I don’t know the timing on that, I know that [they] are just planning for it right now…”

Cars going straight at the intersection of Crown Ridge Blvd. and Highway 9 to the Gleneagle neighborhood is one of the main causes for backup at dismissal because the light blocks traffic from turning right.

 “Seventy-five-percent of our students are turning right to go into town,” said Boatman. “And that is what slows it [traffic] up.”

A proposed remedy to this problem would be to open the access road at the north end of the campus to allow traffic going into town to enter there. Since this is a state highway, the school district would face challenges from the state to implement this. (On the left in red in the above image)

“The gated off [road] at the north end of Crown Ridge. So north-bound [traffic] could go that way and south-bound [traffic] can go over the covered bridge,” said James Brooke, a driving instructor at AHS. 

“Highway 9 is a state highway,” said Lewis. “So there is not a whole lot that we can change in our approach to the highway.”

The school district already has strategies in place to help with the traffic, such as working with the Department of Transportation (DOT) to adjust the light timings for the beginning of the day and dismissal.

“We partner with the DOT to come out and change the timing at the stoplight at the intersection of Highway 9 and Crown Ridge, and that makes it so [that] on a normal day [traffic] is not so much of a problem,” said Lewis. 

These timings are not able to be changed for any single day, which contributes to the significant amount of traffic on days where there is a late start due to snow. 

 “So when we have a late start it does cause quite a backup on Highway 9 and if there is a backup on Highway 9 and at the intersection, then we have a backup in the parking lot,” said Lewis. “[Difficulty] accessing the site can cause a situation where our students are maybe late for first period.”

On days where there might be a late start, Mr. Boatman recommends skipping Highway 9 and should instead go through the Gleneagle Neighborhood to approach the school. This will bypass the significant backups that occur on the highway’s hill. 

Traffic has been an issue district-wide, especially at some of the elementary schools.

“There [are] two primary areas of concern, one is Kent Prairie Elementary where we end up, especially at the end of the day, with cars queued up on 204th street which is outside of the school and then ends up blocking the street,” said Lewis. “This is happening at Eagle Creek [Elementary] also but the congestion is confined to the driveways of the school. This does cause a problem with buses getting into the school.“

There are currently plans to mitigate the traffic and help improve both safety and relations with residents affected by the traffic. 

“At Kent Prairie, the voters approved a capital levy… One of the projects included is to reconfigure the Kent Prairie Elementary site so we can get cars off of the road and create safe pedestrian spaces, because there are some pedestrian traffic issues at the site we want to correct. We are currently planning for summer 2022 to hopefully have it completed when we enter school,” says Lewis. 

Accidents between cars have occurred in the parking lot, but are always just small fender benders. 

“I have heard them [collisions]. I can be at the bottom of the hill and hear fenders crunch. I have seen a lot of near misses,” says Boatman.  

In order to avoid events that can lead to a collision, drivers must be patient and wait their turn to merge onto the road going down the hill in the parking lot. 

“Just patience, you know. It’s just a few minutes… It might feel longer than that, but what is that, a couple minutes that you are losing,” said Brooke. “I know it gets old, but just [practice] patience.”