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Traffic stands still when school lets out

Soumitro Sen
Staff writer

For the majority of the afternoon, the long stretch of tree-lined Ridge Road in front of the Nevada Union High School is peaceful. When the classes are in session, the school parking area is almost silent, with vehicles lined up in neat rows.

But when the school day ends at 2:25 p.m., the whole scene undergoes a sea change.

Within minutes, people and cars are everywhere.

Like ants from a disturbed anthill, people pour out of every nook and cranny – driveways, side streets, parking spaces. Students flit precariously across the streets and in and out of cars, ignoring the impatient looks. Frayed nerves. An occasional honk. And soon the tree-lined road is peaceful no longer.

In recent times, residents of Grass Valley and Nevada City have been plagued with traffic problems before and after school hours in certain areas of the towns. The problems are especially acute in front of Nevada Union High School on Ridge Road, on South Auburn Street near Hennessy School, and on Zion Street at Brock and Doane near the Gold Run, Deer Creek, and Seven Hills schools.

“It’s really difficult to get in and out of school,” said Warren Ronsiek, a senior at Nevada Union High School. “You have to sit in a traffic (jam). People will often go to the middle lane just to skip the big lines and stuff, and that’s really dangerous. It’s difficult to pull out when you have got people driving down the center of the road. It’s really annoying to sit in traffic every day just to get to school.”

Nevada City resident Yvonne Henderson, whose daughter attends Seven Hills School, recalled one particular occasion when she faced the brunt of unusually bad traffic.

“I went to pick up my daughter,” she said. “It took me from 2:35 p.m. to 3:05 p.m. to go through the one mile from Ridge Road at Zion to Hoover at Brock and back. When I turned on to Doane, people were sitting at the stop sign. They just sit there and wait because they want to go to Deer Creek and they have two lanes to load the kids into the cars. So instead of turning right or left or stopping at Zion or walking to get their kids, they block the intersection at Lindley and Doane.

“The parents told me to go around them, which means to cross the double yellow lines. As I was sitting in my own car, two cars did exactly that and they didn’t stop at the intersection. It’s not their fault. This is the system that’s in place for the parents to use to pick up their children.”

Principal Margaret Eli of Hennessy School is aware of the problem, too.

“I think it is a potentially big problem. It takes one child to be hit for it to become a crisis,” Eli said. “The intersection right past Henley is a very busy intersection. That makes it a complex situation. We have had one traffic guard hurt trying to get (out of) the way of a car earlier this year. Traffic is getting to be more. I think many residents on South Auburn think traffic goes too fast down South Auburn.”

“It’s a problem we have been aware of a number of years,” said Dan Landon, executive director of the Nevada County Transportation Commission. “One of the issues about it is that it occurs around 2:30 or 3 p.m., as contrasted with traffic that lets out of businesses at 4:30 or 5 p.m. We are designed to meet the 4:30 or 5 p.m. time frame. Of course, any improvement that we will do will also benefit people who travel during the school time.

“We have a very large volume of traffic for a very short time, so it is not feasible to design and contrast our improvements to let the traffic flow unrestricted.”

Tim Kiser, city engineer for Grass Valley, asserted that solving the traffic problem is complicated, although some steps might be taken soon.

“We are trying to make some improvements at Ridge Road by installing a traffic signal there,” he said. “We have spoken to the school districts and discussed various options, but at this time we don’t have any solutions. They aren’t simple issues to solve.

“There’s a lot of factors that go into it. The schools have their requirements; the state has its requirements; the city has its requirements; there are funding issues. At Nevada Union, the county line is very close to the school. There are numerous jurisdictions involved in these projects. In the case of Hennessy, you have the freeway next to it, so Caltrans will have to be involved in any solution.”

To contact staff writer Soumitro Sen, e-mail soumitros@theunion.com or call 477-4229.

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