There was a good turnout—about eighty people—for last night’s listening post about the future design of the Horace Mann Elementary School site. People asked questions and gave feedback on several design options, especially the latest iteration of scenarios, which consisted of Scenarios “H-1,” “H-2,” and “Option Z.”
Several people raised questions about where parents would be able to drop off and pick up students. Each scenario contained some space designated for that purpose, but what looks nice on paper is not always so neat in practice. Option H-1, for example, put the drop-off area here:
But that would seem like a recipe for creating a backed-up line of cars on Dodge Street during rush hour, in the same area where any buses would be pulling up. Other options involved routing cars around the park behind the school.
I’m concerned, though, about whether we’re really grappling with just how much of an increase we’re likely to see in the number of cars dropping off at Mann. That increase isn’t because of the renovation; it’s because of the planned boundary change that will take effect when the renovation is done. Under the new boundaries, the Foster Road/Peninsula neighborhood, most of which was eligible for a bus to Mann, will no longer be part of Mann’s attendance zone. In its place, Mann will be gaining territory east of Seventh Avenue. Very few (if any) of the kids that are being added to Mann’s zone are eligible for a bus, and they’re far enough away that they’re unlikely to be walking. In short, Mann will be exchanging dozens of students who arrive by bus for dozens of students who will arrive by car. That means we can expect to see a steep increase in the number of cars dropping off and picking up kids.
I’m not sure whether that number of cars will be satisfactorily accommodated by any of the scenarios we’ve seen. There was some discussion of routing cars one-way through the roads around the park behind Mann, but I’d still be concerned about the potential volume of cars, especially since those are narrow, residential streets. (One comparison: at Hoover, there is a one-way drop-off/pickup route through the school’s parking lot, which does not simultaneously function as a city street, yet the drop-off/pickup line is often two or even three cars deep.)
None of the district’s drop-off/pickup situations are ideal, and maybe the neighborhood will be able to deal with the influx of cars. (Please chime in with comments about other possible solutions!) But I doubt there will be any alternative as effective as simply keeping Mann’s attendance zone roughly similar to its current zone. The kids who live in the Foster Road/Peninsula area will be bus-eligible no matter what school they’re assigned to. Keeping them at Mann is a way to reduce the number of cars converging on a school site that is particularly ill-suited to a high volume of drop-offs.
Next year, the board has to redraw some of the elementary boundaries it drew last year, because of the decision to build the new North Liberty elementary school in a different place than initially planned. When it does, it should also consider whether Mann’s planned boundaries are workable, given the site. It will be much easier to address any problems before the site is completed and the new boundaries go into effect than afterward.
Note: I see the drop-off issue as separate from the issue about on-site parking. It is hard enough on the Mann site to deal with the issue of staff, visitor, and disability-accessible parking; it is not feasible to use a parking lot to accommodate drop-off and pickup. Moreover, drop-off and pickup spaces have to be designed with traffic flow in mind.