Gateway Sun

For years the Gateway Services Community Development District has been asking the Gateway Charter schools to do something about the vehicle parking issues that are created by the “parent pick-up lines”.

In case you’re unfamiliar, every school day seemingly hundreds of cars line up outside of Gateway’s schools to pick up their children. In most cases it’s because no buses were available for the children to be assigned to. Some parents show up hours in advance to get a favorable spot in line so that when school does let out they’ll be the first ones to pick up their kids.

Members of Gateway’s elected Board of Supervisors have long complained about dangerous traffic situations and continued damage to district-owned landscaping as the lines of vehicles grow.

A written agreement between Charter Schools USA and the Gateway CDD which was signed years ago stated that the charter schools agreed to solve the parent pick-up situation. However, year after year has passed with no noticeable results — and it would seem that the Supervisors have finally had enough.

At their district meeting on January 18, a visibly annoyed Supervisor Ed Tinkle brought up the topic for the board to discuss.

Said Tinkle: “I’ve been driving down every afternoon, when I’m not playing golf, Gateway Boulevard. And somebody isn’t getting the lesson. That is a mess down there. Parking cars – they park those cars anywhere and everywhere on that right of way, just tearing the daylights out of everything. Same thing on the opposite side of Brown Academy. I think what we need to do is to authorize our attorney to send a bow shot and let them know we’re not gonna do this any more.

Chairman Margaret Fineberg chimed in to say, “It’s actually dangerous driving down that road.”

“It’s very dangerous,” agreed Tinkle.

Gateway’s attorney Tony Pires added, “I guess one more question about that would be filing a code enforcement complaint with Lee County saying that they either have deficient parking on site or deficient circulation patterns on site which causing this parking on Lee County rights of way and damaging our landscaping.”

Supervisor Doug Banks noted that the whole problem is actually an enforcement issue and not something the Gateway District is in a position to directly solve. Banks said he was in favor of contacting Lee County and having them enforce any problematic parking by vehicles.

The GSCDD doesn’t have any enforcement powers when it comes to parking, which Banks knows. So my interpretation of Banks’ remarks is that he was saying that the Lee County Sheriff’s Office would be the appropriate agency to deal with enforcing parking problems, rather than having the Board of Supervisors try to come up with specific solutions at their meeting.

The main problem is that there currently isn’t a ‘No Parking’ zone at the location in question to enforce. That means cars can park along Gateway Boulevard all they like so long as they obey the rest of Lee County’s parking rules.

However, it looks like that will change.

After Banks spoke, Ambassador Kathleen Flaherty turned to Public Works Manager Mike Tisch and asked, “Mike, you were going to contact the DOT about the parking issues because of Brown University [sic], and the charter schools and Saucy Meatballs?”

Tisch responded, “I have contacted the Department of Transportation, they’re supposed to be putting up no parking signs that law enforcement can then go and actually start citing people… I’ve spoken to the gentleman who would actually go out and do the engineering to design where the signs go.

Banks: “Any ETA? Do they understand the priority?”

Tisch told Banks that he would follow up with Lee County.

What this all means is that at the behest of the Gateway Services District, the Lee County DOT will be establishing a ‘No Parking’ zone on Gateway Boulevard near Gateway Charter High School. The DOT will install signage in accordance compliance with The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways.

Once those signs are up and the no parking zone is legally created, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office can start ticketing people for parking along the side of Gateway Boulevard near the school.

If any parents choose to park on the side of Gateway Boulevard after ‘No Parking’ zone is in place, those parents could be issued parking tickets. Or at the very least the parents could be given a verbal command from an LCSO deputy to move their vehicle which would obviously have to be obeyed.

Hence, this should all but put an end to the parent pick-up line on Gateway Boulevard.

The only question now is when this will all take place, but it is definitely in the works.

break-line

No one has given the Gateway Charter schools a harder time than I have over the years. But as is often the case, I’m not sure the Board of Supervisors have fully thought through the unintended consequences of their actions.

Fortunately, they have me to do that for them.

And more importantly, I have an idea for a solution. (You’re welcome.)

Eliminating the parent pick-up line isn’t going decrease the need for parent pick-ups.

But it will increase three things.

First, every school day, there are already hundreds of students who leave Gateway Charter High School on foot and meet up with their parents off-site or to go where they’re supposed to be. Many of them cross Gateway Boulevard unsafely. People complain constantly about how dangerous it is to have all those kids (who are only half paying attention) trying to navigate around oncoming traffic to get where they need to go.

So without parent pick-up lines, an increased number of parents will want to figure out other off-site accommodations, and therefore number of those kids walking around Gateway will probably double.

The second thing that will increase will be traffic around the school. Some parents choose to wait in parent pick-up lines because they want to pick up their student at the actual school. They don’t want to meet their kids offsite. Without anywhere to wait, those cars will be forced to circle around and around waiting for their opportunity to get in to the school.

Therefore the traffic flow will increase substantially as cars make pass after pass waiting for an opening in the school parking lot.

And third, with the increased congestion of both cars and children in the immediate area, other motorists will be inconvenienced even more than they already are, causing increased frustration on their part – and quite possibly cause additional speeding or aggressive driving.

In sum, you’ll have more cars in the area trying to get in to the school, along with more kids walking around the same area trying to get where they expected to be, and more pissed off drivers just trying to get to Daniels Parkway. All at the exact same time.

No bueno.

There’s really only one solution that I can see: Gateway Charter must drastically decrease the number of students who are picked up by their parents at the school. The easiest way to do that would be to get more buses for the students.

CSUSA is a notoriously cheap organization, so I don’t know that they’ll be all too keen on the idea of spending more on student transportation. But the fact is that they’ve created this parking problem and they’re the ones who need to make arrangements to solve it.

In my opinion, the GSCDD should ask CSUSA if they’re willing to agree to greatly increase bus service to their students beginning next year. If CSUSA agrees, the GSCDD should ask LCDOT to hold off on establishing the no parking zone until June or July when school is out.

That way Gateway Charter has from now until the start of the next school year to arrange for more buses, more drivers, etc.

And I’m not talking about 3 or 4 more buses. I’m talking enough buses to end the parent pick-up issue on Gateway Boulevard once and for all. But that’s not something the school can get done in a week.

While I understand Gateway Charter has had all the time in the world and they have done nothing, they will need time to arrange more buses should they suddenly find the motivation to solve the problem.

If CSUSA doesn’t agree to provide Gateway Charter High School with a lot more buses, then I don’t know what other options are left, and there’s no point delaying the ‘No Parking’ zone. The school is responsible for the issues and the residents of Gateway have spoken loud and clear that they want this situation dealt with. Gateway’s elected officials have shown amazing patience, which has now run out.

Lee County can (and should) establish and enforce a no parking area on that section of Gateway Boulevard, since that’s what local residents clearly want. But it would be better for the students if the enforcement aspect was delayed until the summer.

Make no mistake: Even if Gateway Charter agrees to increase busing, I would not simply take them at their word. I would set up the ‘No Parking’ zone this summer regardless.

That way the will of people of Gateway would finally be met, the students won’t be placed in any additional unsafe situations, and the charter high school would have nearly 8 months to figure out a solution.

Finally, after allowing both the GSCDD and CSUSA the entire 2018-19 school year to observe and evaluate the improved parking situation at Gateway Charter High School, I would turn my attention towards Gateway Elementary and Gateway Charter Elementary and see what improvements can be made at those schools as well.

About Jeff Kuntz

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Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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