Road runner: School traffic jams inspire students to seek a solution

2012-12-17T00:00:00Z Road runner: School traffic jams inspire students to seek a solutionBecky Pallack Becky Pallack Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Three budding traffic engineers at Wilson K-8 School in Marana are working on solutions to one of their school's biggest problems: traffic jams.

They are seventh-graders who are counting cars, surveying drivers and analyzing data with the help of local experts and their teacher, Betsy Wilkening.

With only one way to get in and out of the school, students and parents see a long line of cars and school buses daily.

"We're trying to raise awareness about this whole issue because I don't think many kids even stop to think about this," said student Amir Ameri.

He and students Samantha Fleming and Winnie Lu found that more than half of elementary-school students and more than one-third of middle-school students got a ride to school.

They thought most drivers are those bringing students from outside the school's enrollment boundary who attend through open enrollment. But they were surprised to find that three-quarters of the drivers live within the district and could send their students to school on the school bus, Ameri said.

"It kinda really bugs you when you see that line," he said. "It's also annoying when the line is so long, and you're standing in the parent pickup line with this heavy backpack on your shoulders the whole time."

In one hour before school started, the students counted 495 cars, 19 bikes and three pedestrians, said Wilkening, who rides her bike to school.

After school, the first car shows up at 1:55 for a 2:30 pickup, she said. When it's hot, the cars sit and idle with air conditioners on and emissions coming out.

"You want to start coughing when you think about all the exhaust," Ameri said.

He thinks more students should carpool to school. The students found only a few carpoolers in their survey.

"It doesn't release so much carbon in the air and it creates less ozone, and all this stuff is really dangerous to your lungs if you take in too much," Ameri said.

"They're wasting money, too, just sitting and burning that gas. If you carpool, you only have to spend half as much money, so we're trying to use the money aspect to get people to use alternative modes of transportation."

Ruth Reiman, who's in charge of the Travel Demand Management program at the Pima Association of Governments, is talking with the young engineers about how to organize carpools and group bike rides and get more people to use school buses.

After they get the word out on alternative modes of transportation, the students plan to do another survey to see if habits changed. Hear that, parents?

The students will enter their project in ecybermission, an online science competition sponsored by the Army. Wilkening's students have won first and second place in the state for the past few years.

WILDLIFE CROSSINGs

The Regional Transportation Authority board gave thumbs up to a revised plan for wildlife crossings on Oracle Road near Oro Valley.

The board voted 7-2 last week to spend $11 million on one overpass, one underpass and more fencing to help wildlife avoid cars.

The original project would have cost $8.2 million, but utility conflicts and material price increases drove the cost up, according to an RTA press release. A planned wildlife underpass near Innovation Park was cut from the new plan.

DOWN THE ROAD

• Tuesday is a drive-through night at the Winterhaven Festival of Lights. Go to winterhavenfestival.org for maps and details. Otherwise, steer clear of Fort Lowell and Prince near Country Club to avoid the slow-moving traffic.

On Thursday, TucsonVelo is hosting a bicycle tour of the lighted-up neighborhood. Meet at the Rillito River Path at Campbell Avenue at 5:30 p.m. Go to tucsonvelo.com for details.

• The city's crack-sealing, patching and surface-sealing project is coming to the west side this week.

Crews will fix a mile of Greasewood Road, between Anklam Road and Starr Pass Boulevard. And they'll fix a small stretch of 36th Street west of Mockingbird Lane.

Watch for daytime lane closures.

• The University of Arizona Police Department is selling steering-wheel locks for $12. You can buy one at the UAPD Main Station, 1852 E. First St.

Road Q

"I was recently in El Tour, and part of the ride went over Silverbell Road, which, in my mind, needs some help," writes Tom Webster. "Are there plans to resurface Silverbell in the near future?"

Answer: Silverbell is years away from being a smooth ride.

Besides filling potholes and other bandage treatments, no work is planned. That's because major projects are in Silverbell's future.

The city and the Regional Transportation Authority plan to make over Silverbell between Grant and Goret roads in 2016, and then later between Goret and Camino del Cerro.

Marana and Pima County will work with the RTA to improve Silverbell south of Ina, but that project is 10 years out.

Send your Road Q questions by email to roadrunner@azstarnet.com or to 4850 S. Park Ave., Tucson, AZ 85714. Please include first and last names.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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