The village and the sheriff’s office are working together to try to prevent some of the issues with traffic around four schools.
Wellington officials are working with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to tackle an issue facing schools countywide: How to grapple with an increase in drop-off and pick-up traffic seen over the past year.
Four schools in particular have been problem areas, said Village Engineer Jonathan Reinsvold: Wellington Elementary School, Binks Forest Elementary School, Wellington Landings Middle School and Wellington High School. Reinsvold presented the issue to Wellington’s Village Council at Tuesday night’s meeting on behalf of Nicole Coates, the village’s director of emergency management and public safety, who was unable to attend.
The Palm Beach County School District has seen more and more parents dropping off and picking up students in vehicles — instead of children taking the bus, walking or biking — since the COVID-19 pandemic, PBSO Lt. Eli Shaivitz told Wellington’s council members at their Tuesday night meeting.
Shaivitz asked Wellington for help working with the district to see if there are changes that can be made to help alleviate the problem, suggesting the possibility of staggered dismissal times with priority departures given to buses.
“There should be an incentive to take the bus. There should be an incentive to bike or walk,” he said, adding, “As the village and PBSO, we can do everything we can outside the gates. We’re going to need some help behind the gates to work with them.”
Most of the issues involve illegal parking in swales, Reinsvold said.
At Binks Forest Elementary, one of the biggest issues seen by village staff and deputies is vehicles parking in the swales to the west of the school along Bent Creek Road, Reinsvold said. Cars are backing in or pulling forward so far that they block part of the multi-use path and make it difficult for pedestrians, bicyclists and golf carts to pass, he said.
He presented several options to the council to potentially solve the problem: add a fence along the back of the swale, which would still allow some parking when the school needs it for special events; add a curb and gutter to act as a barrier with a two-rail fence; install bollards in the swale, the most expensive option; or extend the line of flexible lane delineators that already are in use closer to the school’s entrance and exit.
Council members supported the fourth option, to install the flexible sticks to force vehicles into the drop-off and pick-up line.
Councilman Michael Napoleone said he has received concerned calls from parents this year about the traffic issues around Binks Forest Elementary.
“The parking in the swale this year and last year is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” he said. He’s watched people drive their cars up the multi-use pathway like it’s a road, and he’s seen golf carts get blocked from passing.
“The people are aggressive and they don’t care,” Napoleone said, noting one morning when PBSO deputies were ticketing drivers for parking in the swale, he saw a woman say, “Write me a ticket. I don’t care.”
While enforcement from PBSO helps, Napoleone said it can’t solve all of the traffic problems officials see near schools. “Some of this stuff requires physical solutions so PBSO can do other things,” he said.
At Wellington Elementary, parking in swales has been an issue along Paddock Drive east of Big Blue Trace, where the road dead-ends into the school’s traffic loop, Reinsvold said. There, village staff will coordinate with PBSO to place sandwich boards in the area reminding parents and caregivers they cannot park in the swale, he said.
Following a Dec. 12 council discussion on school traffic, several changes were made around Wellington High School that have helped alleviate some of the issues that were being seen there, Reinsvold said. Flexible lane delineators were installed at the exit of the pick-up and drop-off loop to make drivers turn right, and “No U-Turn” signs were installed closer to the school along Greenview Shores Boulevard to keep the flow of traffic moving.
Council members asked about Wellington Landings, which was part of the Dec. 12 discussion but was not part of Tuesday night’s presentation. Reinsvold said an upcoming project may help traffic there: The work will add bike lanes along Greenview Shores Boulevard from Binks Forest Drive to Wellington Trace, and new curbs and gutters will be part of that work, he said. When installing the curbs and gutters, the village could also install a fence to keep drivers from pulling into the swale, Reinsvold said.
The situation with afternoon pick-up at Wellington Landings is “flat-out dangerous” from the school up to Walgreens, at the corner of Greenview Shores and Wellington Trace, said Mayor Anne Gerwig.
“I just hate to think that we have to wait until a kid gets killed,” she said. She’s seen cars parked along Greenview Shores with their doors opening into the road for children to exit. “You don’t want to live near a school anymore,” she said, adding, “You don’t want to be anywhere near it because it’s flat-out dangerous for your family.”
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