Roaring Fork Schools’ detour plan includes ‘walking bus’
A daily parade of schoolchildren will be making its way from Two Rivers Park to downtown Glenwood Springs schools and back every morning and afternoon starting Sept. 5.
The “walking school bus” is part of a detailed plan by Roaring Fork Schools to take as many buses off of the Grand Avenue bridge detour route as possible after the main bridge across the Colorado River closes.
Already, the district was planning to start the new school year nearly two weeks later than usual, as part of the broader community effort to ease traffic congestion during the initial stages of the bridge closure and 95-day detour that takes effect Aug. 14.
District and other public and private Glenwood schools have altered their student transportation plans, as well, for when school does start back up.
Public education campaigns have also been targeted at parents, students, teachers and school staff to walk, bike or use the free RFTA and city buses to get around during that time.
The closure and subsequent deconstruction of the old bridge is necessary in order for the new bridge to be completed.
Normally, the district has buses crossing the river 24 times a day, either on Grand or the Midland Avenue bridge near Interstate 70 Exit 114 where the detour will run, according to Jared Rains, transportation director for the Roaring Fork School District.
“Our goal is to try to get that down to four, or maybe even as few as two,” he said.
The plan involves busing students who live north of the river and are headed for Glenwood Springs Elementary or Glenwood High School to Two Rivers Park. This will include the No Name, Canyon Creek and two West Glenwood bus routes.
Students will be dropped at the boat ramp loop between 7-8 a.m., and will be escorted by district staff and volunteers to their school via the city’s River Trail.
Likewise, students living south of the river and taking the bus to Glenwood Springs Middle School in West Glenwood will be dropped at GSES and will walk to a waiting bus at Two Rivers Park for the second leg of the trip.
“We will have chaperones to keep everyone safe,” Rains said. “Right now, we’re in the process of hiring someone to oversee that and be our trail coordinator, and we have all kinds of volunteers to help out, as well.”
A citizens’ trail ambassadors group will also be out in force along the River Trail during the before and after school times.
Rains said it’s about a 15-minute trek from Two Rivers Park to GSES, and about another 5 to 10 minutes to the high school.
Ponchos will be handed out for those inevitable rainy days, and if the weather is really bad on a given day, the backup plan is to use mini buses to shuttle students using the detour, he said.
Any students with limited mobility will be given a ride on a golf cart, for which the district has special permission to run on the bike path. Special needs students will still take a bus directly to the school, Rains said.
In gauging its own impact on Glenwood Springs traffic, the district found that about 1,000 students and 123 school employees cross the bridge back and forth each school day.
Glenwood Springs High School has nearly 300 students driving or being driven by parents or fellow students across the bridge, while GSES has 281 students coming over the bridge.
Glenwood Middle School generates the most traffic, with 393 students crossing the river, Rains said.
A survey of district parents in May indicated school bus ridership is likely to increase by 20 percent during the detour, he said.
Other bus changes include the middle school route north of the river, which will follow Donegan Road and Soccer Field Road to the school, rather than clogging up the U.S. 6 corridor and the Exit 114 roundabouts, he said.
HIGH SCHOOL HELP
“I took a picture of the high school parking lot when I gave this presentation to the students there. It really showed that they have a big opportunity to help in all of this,” Rains said.
The high school is working to provide various incentives for students to take the bus, walk, bike or at least arrange to pick up fellow students along the way.
The Red Mountain neighborhood along Midland will not have a bus option during the detour. Students living in that area will be encouraged to walk or ride their bikes to school over the new pedestrian bridge that crosses directly to the high school vicinity, or over to Two Rivers Park to catch the bus to the middle school.
The open campus policy during the high school lunch period is also being modified. Students will be advised to walk or bike wherever it is they are headed for lunch, and the school is working to bring lunch to the school on some days during the detour, Rains said.
Even having students crossing Grand Avenue to City Market during the detour is going to be a safety concern, he said.
“Already, we have some of those students crossing against the light, and we see cars running red lights all the time,” Rains said. “That’s a really bad combination.”
The 12th Street underpass of Grand Avenue, located two blocks north of the high school, is being recommended as an alternative walking route, he said.
District staff plans to do its part by working at satellite locations and holding meetings electronically from remote sites when possible.
Sopris Elementary School in the Glenwood Park neighborhood is expected to see about a 200-student drop in enrollment due to the opening of the new Riverview School south of town. That will decrease the number of buses going to that school from eight to two and will drastically reduce the number of parents driving students to the school, Rains said.
The district will do a trial run on the modified bus routes after the detour begins to see how they work and make any changes, he said.
Other nondistrict schools are also making changes to their schedules and student transportation plans.
Two Rivers Community School in West Glenwood, which operates as a state charter school, will open the doors on its newly remodeled school building on Aug. 28.
Adriana Ayala-Hire, director of business and outreach for the school, said the start and end time for school has been moved up 15 minutes to 8:15 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Buses coming from Silt and New Castle will stay on I-70 to Exit 116 and take Sixth Street and Donegan to the school to avoid the traffic jams at Exit 114, she said.
“We are still drafting our Glenwood routes, but we hope that since we are technically going against traffic, we will only be delayed about 15-20 minutes in the morning,” Ayala-Hire said. “I personally plan to bike as much as I can to eliminate one more car on the road.”
Parents at the school have said they plan to have their students do the same, she said.
St. Stephen’s School does not offer a school bus, but to limit the number of parents dropping kids off when classes start Aug. 21, it will have volunteers on RFTA’s free buses to help escort students, said Arahana Contreras, administrative assistant for the school.
School will also start at 7:30 a.m. and will be let out at 2:30 p.m. during the detour, she said.