‘Walking bus’ is ready to stomp its way to school | PostIndependent.com

‘Walking bus’ is ready to stomp its way to school

In this file photo kids get on the bus at Sopris Elementary school after an early release day.
Chelsea Self |

Get ready for the twice-daily kiddo parade in downtown Glenwood Springs to start the new school year Sept. 5.

As part of a detailed plan by the Roaring Fork Schools to keep as many buses off the Grand Avenue bridge detour route as possible when school starts after the Labor Day holiday, the district will implement what’s being called a “walking school bus.”

Each day before and after school, buses bringing students from points north of the Colorado River to and from Glenwood Springs Elementary and Glenwood High School will drop off at Two Rivers Park and the students will be chaperoned along the Rio Grande Trail to school before 8 a.m., and back to their waiting bus after school lets out in the afternoon.

Likewise, Glenwood Springs Middle School students living south of the river and taking the bus will be dropped at GSES and will walk to a waiting bus at Two Rivers Park for the second leg of their journey to the West Glenwood school.

The district is starting 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 three-month detour that went into effect Aug. 14.

District and other public and private Glenwood schools have altered their student transportation plans and school schedules, and public education campaigns have targeted at parents, students, teachers and school staff to make use of the school bus system, walk, bike or use the free RFTA and city buses to get around during the detour.

The closure and subsequent deconstruction of the old Grand Avenue bridge that is now well underway is necessary in order for the new bridge to be completed.

Normally, the Roaring Fork Schools have buses crossing the river 24 times a day, either on Grand or the Midland Avenue bridge near Interstate 70 Exit 114 where the detour now runs, according to Jared Rains, transportation director for the 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 GSES or GSHS to the Two Rivers Park drop-off, which is located in the boat ramp loop. This will include the No Name, Canyon Creek and two West Glenwood bus routes, Rains said.

Students will be dropped between 7-8 a.m., and will be escorted by district staff and volunteers to their school via the city’s River Trail portion of the Rio Grande Trail.

It’s about a 15-minute walk from Two Rivers to GSES, and about another 10 minutes continuing on to the high school, Rains said.
On rainy days, the district is working on a plan to have ponchos available for students who don’t already have raincoats, but parents are advised to watch the weather and plan accordingly, he said.

Any students with limited mobility will be given a ride on a six-person golf cart that was donated, and 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.

Jordan Schoeller has recently been hired as the districts official trail coordinator during the detour period. She is currently looking for volunteers in the community to help out, and can be reached via email at jschoeller@rfschools.com, or by calling 970-319-3418.

BUS ROUTE PLAN

In gauging its own impact on Glenwood Springs traffic, the district found that about 1,000 students and 123 school employees normally 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.

To adjust to the traffic congestion and stay off the detour route as much as possible, the GSMS route north of the river 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.

Sopris Elementary School in Glenwood Park is already 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 Sopris from eight to two, and should also drastically reduce the number of parents driving students to the school, Rains said.

Several trial runs with the school buses were done last week when the detour went into effect.

“We definitely did learn some things by doing that, especially with the afternoon routes,” Rains said.

One adjustment that was made is that the Midland Avenue bus route will reverse course to run against the flow of afternoon rush-hour traffic, and will be running south while the heavy traffic is going north, he said.

“The morning routes ran really smooth, and we expect to get all the kids to school between 7:45 and 8 a.m.,” he said.

School buses that do have to use the Colorado 82/Grand Avenue detour route headed north will also be able to use the dedicated right-hand lane that is reserved for buses, emergency vehicles, permitted employee van pools and right-hand turns only.