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What is the deal with this parking lot?!?!

Principal’s Blog

I find it much easier to have a conversation about the parking lot over the phone or face to face because there are so many different facets to answering that basic question. But as a father, before becoming principal of this great school, I knew our parking lot was a challenge, although I didn’t realize how much! Since August I’ve had several individual conversations about our parking lot and presented planned improvements (yes, improvements!) to the PTSA, as well at my parent roundtable discussions. Here’s my attempt to provide context and rationale for the changes we’ve implemented in our parking lots at Squalicum High School – and expectations for all of us moving forth.

We have approximately 1400 fantastic students at SQHS. One of the first phone calls I received after arriving this summer was from our director of transportation with a plan to move some buses to the upper lot for drop-off and pick-up. I sought a different solution because of a previous, unsafe experience in a different district where bus and student traffic were combined for a construction project. Our transportation department kept all the bus traffic dedicated to the lower lot and then we moved to direct parent pick-up and drop-off solely in the upper lot for specified times. This was so that we no longer had that dangerous mix of walking students, cars and buses. We also added a sign at the lower lot entrance that stated the lower lot is for bus traffic from 7:15-2:30pm.

Then there is the upper lot. No secret here: the upper lot is not designed well. It isn’t easy to navigate, only has one entrance/exit and many tiers parking spaces are narrow. Before we introduced the student drop-off and pick-up to the upper lot, traffic did not flow well. Then we added student pick-up and drop-off. And flow.

At this point, I usually get asked why we directed cars picking students up to line up in the perimeter of the parking lot. Why use the perimeter? The answer is so that we were able to facilitate moving cars off of McLeod faster. Previously, cars were backed up from the entrance, straight down past the tennis courts. The idea was to utilize the length of the perimeter of the lot. However, it didn’t work as anticipated because the long line of cars did not advance quickly enough to keep accepting cars off of McLeod. The back-up persisted. While walking among the tiers and attempting to direct traffic, I realized the parking lot had one attribute we weren’t utilizing. There were over a hundred empty parking spaces. And so that’s what we asked of everyone: please enter the parking lot and park. Your student will be able to find you. And as we moved through that transition, traffic flowed much better. For several weeks we had cones in place to prompt cars to turn to the right and parked, and students who found their rides in parking spaces. Cars were able to exit the lot where the lot was clear of a line of traffic in under 15 minutes. We established a flow that was consistent and it appeared that most parents and student drivers understood.

About the end of September, I wanted to formalize the design. I approached our district leadership in charge of capital projects and maintenance to look for opportunities to improve the safety features of our lot. I asked about a traffic light at the entrance. I asked about a second entrance. I asked about adding an island where students come out the woods at the base of those stairs – down from McLeod. They came, walked the lots with me, and watched the flow of cars leaving – and it worked well.

We continued to research and look for options. Some of those things I asked about were cost-prohibitive, requiring tens of thousands of dollars, and quite frankly, had already been pursued by some principals before me. I discovered we don’t have any say in what happens beyond our entrance. The city of Bellingham is in charge of traffic lights. And that had been pursued previously, too. So a traffic light was out. Adding a second entrance was out. So what could we improve? The district was gracious and supportive: providing new striping of the entire lot, adding an additional speed bump to the upper tier (to eliminate those drivers who had been driving toward our walkers to avoid the existing speed bump), added directional arrows to ensure the flow, and added two more speed bumps on the far side of the lot. Repainting the stripes was mainly to emphasize the crosswalks. They had been hard to see. However, pedestrians always have the right of way. As drivers, we all need to be conscious and aware of where our students are. At the same time, our students have a responsibility to be aware. We have smart, capable young adults that can navigate our crosswalks – whether walking or driving.

We also formalized the flow by adding poles to replace the need to place cones out every morning and afternoon. And quite frankly, to only have that design in effect when we arrive to school and leave from school did not reinforce the flow of traffic and actually encouraged drivers to go different directions at different times of the day. That flow and adherence to the design was much more effective when adults were out supervising the parking lot. And I didn’t mind doing so. I enjoy waving to everyone and wishing them a great evening. I genuinely do. But supervising the parking lot is not the best use of my time.

Since I’ve gotten to this level of detail, let me elaborate on the plastic poles for a minute. If vehicles don’t turn right, the traffic flow design doesn’t work. We aren’t moving back to bringing cars to the lower lot, so we need everyone to turn right. They are to remain in place. We had looked at several options. We could have installed curbs and metal posts. We elected, however, to go with the plastic poles because they were narrow and if someone skidded into them due to icy conditions their vehicle would not be damaged. However, I believe it is a select few who have chosen to use the destruction of the poles as a way to rebel against the changes in the lot. It’s unfortunate for several reasons. For one, they cost money. And to replace those destroyed poles means less money for other things that may be of much greater benefit to our school. It’s also disrespectful and sends a false message to every person who visits us that we don’t care about our school. The courtesy and pride I’ve experienced at Squalicum has been outstanding. Except for this situation, which is shameful. Those poles are one of the first things any of us sees entering the lot and while I don’t think for a minute that the traffic poles equate to Storm Power, I do believe strongly people show pride for things they are proud of. A clean school is one way to demonstrate that pride. We had the entrance sign repainted and cleared a ton of overgrowth out of that upper lot and entrance for that very reason. If we let our own people continuously vandalize areas of the school, what does that say of our pride – our commitment to each other? Unfortunately, not much. And to see that every day is disheartening. For those doing it – please stop. It’s not funny. It just makes you a vandal, nothing more. And if you know who is doing it, encourage those responsible to stop. And if want to share information, tell myself or another adult.

I’ve tried to convey that none of these changes were done without careful consideration. And every change has been to increase safety at the lower lot and increase efficiency and safety in the upper lot. And I get that change is hard. However, those who drive to Squalicum High School may need to change their driving habits accordingly – or expectations – accordingly. It takes time to navigate our lot, period. There are many students who drive to school and many parents who drop their kids off at Squalicum High School. Please, be proactive and plan to arrive earlier than you normally do. If you are a parent, park when you come to pick your student up. If NO PARKING is painted on the ground, please don’t park there. If you aren’t the fortunate, early, five or six who are at the entrance where there is actually space to pull over to pick up your student, go park in a parking space and wait for your son or daughter. If you are a student driver, wait ten minutes or so before leaving if you don’t have to leave right away. Check in with a teacher. They’d love to see you after school, even if it’s just to say hi! Please plan ahead and know that we know our parking lot isn’t perfect. But it’s our parking lot and we need it to work – and that’s everyone’s responsibility. If you would like to continue this conversation, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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