It’s a foregone conclusion that there will be more traffic in and around the neighborhood where Topeka Unified School District 501’s newest preschool through eighth-grade campus will open on Monday. What impact the increased traffic is going to have on residents living around the new Jardine Academy has yet to be seen.
“Some of the neighbors don’t seem concerned about it,” said Jack Savage, referring to the expected increase in traffic, who lives across the street from the expanded campus in southwest Topeka. “I feel it’s going to be a major traffic problem. It’s going to be more congested all the way around.”
According to a March 2016 traffic impact analysis conducted by Topeka-based Cook, Flatt & Strobel engineering firm, the number of students on the pre-K through 8 campus will go from the estimated 539 middle school students to an estimated 1,544 total to include the new elementary school students. The number of staff members is expected to increase from an estimated 75 to 205.
While the middle school and elementary start and end times are separated by 50 minutes in the mornings and afternoon, the impact analysis estimates there will be an increase from a combined 739 vehicles per hour in the mornings and afternoons to a combined 1,213 vehicles per hour in the mornings and afternoons.
“The district worked very closely with both the neighborhood around Jardine Academy and the city of Topeka to address the flow of traffic,” said Misty Kruger, USD 501’s spokeswoman. “Until school starts we are not sure what the increased traffic will look like, but we will continue to monitor and make any adjustments as necessary.”
“I don’t think it will be too bad,” said Rachael Kuker, who lives directly across the street from the campus. “In the mornings, I bet it will get more congested.”
According to the 2016 traffic impact analysis and a preliminary traffic impact study conducted by Cook, Flatt & Strobel in 2015, traffic delays are expected to vary at all of the intersections near the Jardine campus in the mornings and afternoons.
Terry Coder, traffic engineer for the city of Topeka, confirmed that the S.W. 29th and Randolph intersection is expected to have the greatest delays of all the surrounding intersections, particularly for motorists approaching the t-intersection from the south and trying to turn east or west onto S.W. 29th Street.
The eastbound and westbound delays at that intersection, according to the analysis, are expected to go from an average of 16.3 seconds to 23.6 seconds in the mornings and from 21.0 seconds to 26.6 seconds in the afternoon. Delays for northbound motorists at the intersection of S.W. 33rd and Burlingame, which has a traffic signal, is expected to increase from 16.6 seconds to 21.7 seconds in the mornings and from 16.6 seconds to 17.8 seconds in the afternoons.
While the 2015 preliminary traffic impact study stated that the S.W. 29th and Randolph intersection “may warrant the installation of a signal,” the 2016 analysis states “the intersection is currently unsignalized and is not warranted for a signal under existing or post-development scenarios.”
Despite the differing statements, Coder said he plans to have the city engineering department conduct a traffic signal warrant analysis at S.W. 29th and Randolph and a four-way stop analysis for S.W. 33rd and Randolph about a month to six weeks after the start of school. He said the analysis will take into consideration several criteria set by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, like volume and distribution of traffic and crash history.
“I’ve had a lot of public comment,” he said, “and to be responsive to public concerns, we’re going to do that.”
Coder said another reason he’s going to have the analysis for those intersections conducted after the school year begins is that the traffic impact study done by Cook, Flatt & Strobel “is essentially a model developed on statistical data and lots of engineering assumptions.”
“What the traffic will actually do and what has been modeled may be two different things,” he said.
Between 2012 and 2015, according to the 2016 analysis, there were seven crashes at the S.W. 29th and Randolph and S.W. 29th and MacVicar intersections each, the highest number of crashes occurring at the intersections surrounding the Jardine neighborhood. The next highest number of crashes during the same time period was four at S.W. 33rd and Randolph.
Drop offs/pick ups
Misty Kruger, USD 501’s spokeswoman, said parents dropping off and picking up their elementary children in the mornings and afternoons are supposed to use the north entrance to the campus from S.W. 30th, using the east side drive as a one-way going south to the elementary school entrance. She although there won’t be signage that indicates the road will be a one-way for drop-offs and pick-ups, parents have been verbally informed only of the drop-off procedure but have been given verbal and written instructions for the pick-up process.
Kruger said the difference in the communication methods about the procedures is that the drop-offs “trickle in” but the pick-ups are more concentrated in the afternoon, necessitating the need for a more structured process.
“The school has developed very specific plans and has been working closely with families to educate them on the different means of drop off and pick up to help avoid non-necessary congestion,” she said. “We will continue to share and help educate parents via social media, parent messages and the Jardine website.”
For Mary Beth McCarthy, who said she’s lived next to Jardine since 1978, she’s more concerned about people parking on both sides of 30th Street in front of her house. She said she’s also concerned about the t-shaped intersection at 30th Street that connects the road running to the east of the campus not having a stop sign.
“That bothers me,” McCarthy said.
Deputy superintendent Larry Robbins said the district will be placing a stop sign at that t-intersection soon.
In general, McCarthy said, she hopes the traffic flow around the campus is closely evaluated by USD 501 and the Topeka Police Department.
“They need to have people monitoring it the first few weeks of school,” she said. “They need to have someone here stationed.”
According to Kruger, there will be two USD 501 officers assigned to the Jardine campus.
“They will be monitoring traffic to help make sure things go smoothly,” she said. “(Ron Brown, USD 501’s chief of security) shared that like any school, it is important for people to follow the school traffic plan to make drop off and pick up as easy as possible for parents, students and staff. Should a need arise for additional support, they will work to accommodate that.”
In the meantime, Savage said he’s taking a general “wait-and-see” attitude about the increased traffic near his home where he said he’s lived for the past seven years. However, Savage said he may consider moving after a year if the traffic becomes untenable.
“Overall, I think it’s a great idea to combine the schools,” he said. “It’s a beautiful school. I just don’t want to fight the crowd.”
Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or follow her on Twitter @AngelaDeines.