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[whitespace] Groups work together to improve traffic problem

Saratoga--Residents on Shadow Oaks Way have had enough.

Redwood Middle School parents have been parking in front of their driveways, parking next to fire hydrants and stopping in the middle of the street to pick up and drop off children, Deputy Ron Breuss from the Santa Clara County sheriff's office said.

Redwood isn't the only school with a traffic problem. Residents across Saratoga have complained of ever increasing traffic congestion near schools. So the Saratoga schools transportation task force intends to do something about it.

Since the task force was formed this fall, members have met three times to discuss solutions, including increasing law enforcement and the reinstitution of busing. On Nov. 29, the members--Mayor Stan Bogosian, City Manager Dave Anderson, city traffic engineer Jim Jefferies, a traffic consultant from Fehr and Peers Associates, and representatives from the sheriff's office, school districts, the city's public safety commission, Valley Transit Authority and West Valley College--met to discuss how to implement these solutions.

Members were thinking of solutions before the task force was even formed. The sheriff's office has already assigned two additional officers, Deputy Carl Neusel and Deputy Bradley Davis, to patrol. On Nov. 1, the city council approved a recommendation made by the public safety commission to increase the number of deputies on patrol by two officers.

Since Nov. 27, Neusel and Davis have been on duty Monday through Thursday, one from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the other from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., while two others have patrolled Tuesdays through Fridays, during the same time slots. Both deputies will cost the city council an additional $332,393 annually, and both will drive around in patrol cars until the California Highway Patrol certifies one of them to become a motorcycle officer in May.

Task force member and Saratoga Union School District Superintendent Mary Gardner has been working with the school district to reinstate busing and encourage carpooling. Schools eliminated busing in the early 1980s, when the state passed legislation that reduced the amount of state money for education, and since then the traffic problem has worsened.

The district is working with the VTA to have Redwood students who live close to VTA bus stops take buses to school. Traffic engineers from Fehr and Peers Associates are looking at traffic patterns to determine how the situation can be improved.

Gardner also hopes to re-establish busing by contracting with R & D Transportation and have parents pay for buses provided by R & D. The company is currently figuring out what routes will look like, how much they will cost and how many parents would be interested in participating.

District board members observed how successful busing was when sixth-graders from Redwood Middle School and students from Saratoga Elementary School were bused from their schools, which were under construction, to the Strawberry Park school site the district leased last year. The money for busing came from a construction fund the district had appropriated.

To encourage carpooling, the district is working with Altrans, a private, grant-funded company that is setting up a website to help parents connect and carpool with other parents in their area.

"I have great hope that we're going to be able to solve some of the problems," Gardner said. "I don't think it will take away traffic, but it will reduce traffic, and it will at least alleviate some of the current problems."

Gardner had been working with public safety commissioner Brigitte Ballingall, who is also part of the task force, when the city council encouraged the formation of the task force to address traffic problems at Saratoga schools outside the SUSD. The task force would like other schools to get involved in R & D Transportation's study and would like to help all Saratoga schools--two high schools, one middle school, six public grammar schools and two private grammar schools--find a solution, Ballingall said, adding that busing is safer, more convenient and better ecologically.

Other solutions the task force has developed include a traffic plan for each school and staggered times within and between schools. When schools start at the same time as St. Andrew's and Redwood do, it makes the problem worse, Ballingall said.

The task force would like to see physical changes made to roadways to make them safer, including the installation of stop signs, turning lanes, sidewalks and parking restrictions, Ballingall said, pointing out that there are no signs or red curbs on Shadow Oaks Way to restrict parking.

In addition, the task force would like to establish clear communication with parents. Parents get into "commute mode," where they violate laws because they consider getting to places on time more important than driving safely, Breuss said. Parents have ignored school officials, called them names and even flipped them off, Breuss said, adding that parents should get out of commute mode and obey laws.
Rebecca Ray

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