After Ballston Spa High student struck by car, all options on table to address traffic, superintendent says
BALLSTON – Over two dozen Ballston Spa High School students raced across Ballston Avenue Thursday, to parents waiting in either the Adirondack Trust or Burlingame Orthodontics parking lots, or to stores like Speedway.
While some cars stopped, it wasn’t until after a student had already stepped into the roadway.
Other cars whizzed out of the school parking lot, forgoing the 20 mph speed limit in the school zone.
Prior to dismissal and for a short time after school let out, a Saratoga County Sheriff’s Deputy was stationed nearby, and cars could be seen quickly hitting the brakes to slow down. None were ever pulled over.
The officer left before the buses left the parking lot.
Many parents have described what happens at the high school around dismissal time as extremely dangerous, following a 14-year-old female student getting hit around 2:30 p.m. Monday after she attempted to cross the busy street.
The student, who has not been identified, was airlifted to Albany Medical Center. The sheriff’s department has not provided an update on the student or the investigation.
The incident is eerily similar to one around the same time and place last year. In that incident a state police officer driving an unmarked vehicle hit a 16-year-old student while they were attempting to cross Ballston Avenue. That student had non-life-threatening injuries.
Following the most recent incident, parents are now calling on the district and town to figure out a solution to try to prevent students from being hit in the future.
Kelly Green has a 14-year-old attending the high school and has had two other children graduate from the district. Her daughter was on her bus, ready to head home, when she saw the 14-year-old female student lying in the street after being hit.
It’s a surreal feeling for a parent to hear from their kid that a student was hit trying to go home, Green said.
“I’m devastated and disappointed,” she said. “This should have been fixed the first time, now it’s happened again.”
Green said the person waving people out of the school lot can make people feel like they’re being rushed out, leading drivers to gun it out of the parking lot. A lot of parents are parking across Ballston Avenue at businesses in order to pick up their kids, leading to them crossing the busy roadway that has no crosswalks near the exits of the school or the sidewalk on the school side of Ballston Avenue.
“As a parent, it’s scary that I have to worry if my child walks home from school or walks somewhere after school,” she said. “That road is not well patrolled and people are known to be speeding around there.”
Parent Crystal Helmer provided similar comments. She said her son, who is a senior in the high school, has seen multiple incidents between students and cars over the years.
“I think everyone is aware of the issue, and I think everyone is trying to come up with solutions, but the fact is it’s just not a safe area,” Helmer said. “There’s no sidewalks. There’s no crosswalks. There’s no crossing guard.”
She said any student that lives within a mile-and-a-half of the school walks to and from campus.
“So, there’s a ton of kids that are walkers, in addition to kids that might be walking to work or walking to hang out with their friends and there’s no specified area for them to go. It’s just chaos,” Helmer said.
She said none of the other roads near the school are really safe either, so there’s no real alternative path for kids to take.
She suggested a staggered dismissal to ease concerns.
Laura Eadon has lived on Maria Lane, just off Garrett Road, since 2014. When she first moved, in she would walk to the Ballston Cemetery on Garrett Road and Ballston Avenue to water family plot flowers, but she said as traffic has gotten worse over the years she doesn’t do it anymore. While her three children are too young to be at the high school just yet, she’s as concerned as other parents about the traffic concerns that follow once school lets out.
“Ballston Avenue is a trainwreck,” Eadon said.
She said parents wait all over the place to pick up students to avoid pick up lines and buses. That’s all while cars go flying up and down the road and roads that surround the school. She said unfortunately now it’s left the district with another student that’s been hit while trying to cross the road.
“Hopefully something is done to make students safer, that’s number one, but as a resident right by the school- I want my roads safer for my children as well,” she said.
The district said it’s reviewing every option possible to determine the safest way to get kids home.
But. the district said until the it has a path forward for addressing the problem, everyone has to exercise patience.
Superintendent Gianleo Duca, who was formerly the high school principal, said there has been an increase in students getting dropped off and picked up at the high school because in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The traffic pattern to deal with that was changed,” Duca said. “So, now we have one entry and one exit at the high school lot.”
However, during dismissal time the district is dealing with four different groups who are all trying to leave at the same time — students, parents, buses and employees.
Because of that, Duca said the district has encouraged parents to get to the school early or park in the senior lot where there are around 90 lots for parents to park and students can meet them so they aren’t crossing Ballston Avenue.
He said the administrator team that is outside helping with dismissal tries to let those parents leave first.
However, when buses are ready to go, all traffic, whether it is employees or parents, is stopped to let them leave because once those buses finish dropping students off from the high school, they then have to get students from the elementary schools.
“But, they’re all using the same exit,” Duca said. “So, patience is a virtue.”
He said the district usually has the lot where parents park cleared usually within 10 minutes after the buses leave.
“We’re trying to control the flow of traffic the best we can,” he said.
He said they have worked with the town to add rumble strips and a flashing stop sign—all ways to control traffic on the roadway.
Duca said the district is continuing to have conversations with the town and internally about ways to address the concerns, not leaving off the table items like possibly conducting a traffic study, or opening up another exit.
“We’re looking at all options on the table moving forward,” he said.
Town Supervisor Eric Connolly said the town is working to improve safety in the area.
“We will be reapplying for a safe pathways to school grant this spring,” Connolly said. “The important thing right now is to stay out of the way until the Sheriff’s investigation is completed. Once this happens, we are ready to see what else can be done. My thoughts and prayers are with all of those who have been impacted by this tragic accident.”
The state grant would allow the town to provide sidewalks and other pedestrian safety measures around the school.
“We applied last year and were not awarded,” Connolly said.
He said the town put sidewalks on Garrett Street last year and installed a curb cut, crosswalk and LED crosswalk signs at the four-way stop at Thomas Avenue, Garrett Street and Ballston Avenue to help students safely cross the street.
“With the grant funding, if awarded, we plan to extend the sidewalks up Thomas to connect with the Route 50 sidewalks,” Connolly said.
The parents said they hope changes are made.
Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at [email protected]
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