BY KRISSI HUMBARD — Traffic near school zones is an issue for many areas, and Hyattsville is no exception. But city staff have a plan to try to alleviate some of the traffic around one elementary school.
This isn’t a new issue. Parents and residents have long complained about speeding on Nicholson Street, drivers running stop signs, illegal u-turns, crowded side streets, and cars blocking the crosswalks during morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up at Edward M. Felegy Elementary School (6110 Editors Park Drive) in West Hyattsville. City staff have seen the issues, too. The contractor the city is working with shared videos they took at drop-off and pick-up times last year, which showed numerous unsafe and/or illegal actions by drivers and pedestrians.
“This is an issue the city has been aware of and working on since the day the school opened,” said Jake Rollow, director of Community Services and public information officer.
The Department of Public Works (DPW)’s proposal to help alleviate the problems is to re-line Nicholson Street and eliminate the bike lane in order to create four lanes: a drop-off/pick-up lane on the north side, two lanes for traffic going east and west, and a parking lane on the south side for residents.
“We are hoping to create a safer school drop-off experience,” said Hal Metzler, the city’s project manager. He added that the city is hoping the creation of the drop-off lane will move cars out of the crosswalk and out of the street.
Along with the drop-off/pick-up lane, city staff has proposed traffic changes to Maryhurst Drive and Madison Place. The proposed changes would include making Maryhurst Drive one-way between Madison Place and Nicholson Street, with a right turn only at Nicholson Street. There would be two-way traffic between 31st Avenue and Madison Place on Maryhurst Drive. There would also be a new traffic pattern on Madison Place, reversing the one-way direction so traffic will enter from 31st Place and exit at Maryhurst Drive.
Metzler explained that the city’s engineer studied traffic flow and the number of cars, among other things, and offered seven options. City staff felt this plan would make the most difference in easing traffic woes. Felegy Elementary was designed as a walkable school. The primary route for pedestrians was and is intended to be Nicholson Street, with an entrance off East West Highway as the primary pick-up and drop-off zone. Many parents don’t use that entrance, however, since stopping on Nicholson Street or one of the nearby side streets is closer for them.
City staff held three meetings about the proposed traffic changes, to inform residents and hear their concerns. At the third meeting, held at the school on Nov. 30, residents and parents, concerned for the safety of their children, seemed frustrated by the ongoing traffic violations. And they didn’t seem convinced the changes would help — at least not without some enforcement. Many parents and residents questioned why there wasn’t a police officer or crossing guard present during drop-off and pick-up times.
“We absolutely recognize the need for a crossing guard,” said City Administrator Tracey Nicholson.
Metzler explained that the county police department controls placement of crossing guards. “We are trying to work with the county to get crossing guards assigned to this location,” he said.
Nicholson added that she and staff have reached out to Felegy Elementary School’s principal, Dr. Trevor Liburd, and school staff about having teachers available near the crosswalks to act as escorts for children going into school. There are at least two teachers who direct students into the school from the drop-off/pick-up circle accessible from the entrance off East West Highway.
Though the city’s police department is now just shy of being fully staffed, Nicholson said the department isn’t big enough to assign an officer to be at the school each day during those times.
Hyattsville City Police Chief Doug Holland agreed and added that there are similar issues at the other schools in the city. He urged residents to reach out to the Prince George’s County Board of Education, Principal Liburd, and the school’s PTA to request a crossing guard.
“Do you have a Plan B if this doesn’t work?” one parent asked during the meeting.
Metzler tried to reassure him, saying, “we’ll constantly re-evaluate the plan.”
Councilmember Edouard Haba (Ward 4) recommended residents go to Speak Up HVL to point out traffic issues — not only near Felegy, but anywhere in the city — for the city’s transportation study. He also recommended residents continue to reach out to their councilmembers, the mayor and city staff about concerns.
UPDATE, 1/9/2018: The city plans to institute the changes on or about Jan. 18, depending on area weather conditions. Rollow said city staff will flyer the neighborhood and send flyers home with Felegy students before the changes are implemented. “The city is committed to finding a viable solution that works well for residents while protecting the safety of students,” staff said in an email. “The City will evaluate the traffic circulation of the area after the changes and will make changes as needed.”
City staff also encouraged residents, in a follow-up email to those who attended the November meeting, to share your thoughts on traffic circulation, drop-off and pick-up procedures at the school, and to advocate for the assignment of a crossing guard to Felegy Elementary School. Residents’ comments are needed to assist the city in advocating for changes at the School Board level. District 3 School Board Representative Dinora Hernandez can be reached by phone at 301.952.6115 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can provide input to city staff by contacting Hyattsville DPW Project Manager Hal Metzler by phone at 240.832.6959, or by email at email@example.com.