MCPS reviewing bus stops after serious crashes involving students

MCPS reviewing bus stops after serious crashes involving students

Committees brainstorm how to improve safety

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Photo by Andrew Schotz

Following two pedestrian crashes at or near school bus stops in December, Montgomery County Public Schools officials are reviewing the locations of all stops.

On Dec. 12, a 9-year-old Bradley Hills Elementary School student died after being hit by a school bus she had just deboarded. The next morning, a Walter Johnson High School student was critically injured crossing Montrose Road to board a school bus.

At a joint meeting of the County Council’s Education & Culture and Public Safety committees on Thursday morning, MCPS Director of Transportation Todd Watkins said the school district is reviewing all school bus stops throughout the county. The study is to determine if any — particularly those along major thoroughfares — should be moved to quieter streets.

Any changes would come in the spring or before the next school year starts, Watkins said.

“The tragedy on Dec. 12 and what impossibly followed the next morning was unimaginable for us,” MCPS Chief Operating Officer Andy Zuckerman said “… I just want you to know how profoundly sad we are about what occurred.”

Watkins said the typical bus that a Walter Johnson student takes arrives on the same side of the street. On the morning of the crash, however, the student who was struck, Eyal Haddad, was likely attempting to get on a bus that arrives 16 minutes later across the street, Watkins said.

“We would never design a system so students have to cross the road to get to a bus,” Watkins said. “We have stops on both sides. In that particular situation, there was a time advantage for one side.”

Watkins said in the future, as part of annual audits and reviews of school bus stops, MCPS might begin assigning students bus stops. Now, students can board a school bus at any stop along a route that goes to their school.

That change would include deliberations about whether students may use a bus stop across the street from one to which they are assigned, he said.

While brainstorming other ways to keep the approximately 100,000 students who ride buses safe, Council member Gabe Albornoz suggested MCPS work with companies that create navigation systems like Google Maps and Waze. The idea would be to “put sensors on buses so there’s a ping that goes off on a user’s phone” when a school bus is stopped to pick up or drop off students, he said.

Each MCPS bus is outfitted with cameras that capture video when a driver passes a bus with its stop-arm and emergency lights activated. Doing so is illegal and citations are issued for the violation.

MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith and other county officials have been vocal in their frustration with the number of violations — approximately 1,200 — that each day. They say it puts students in danger.

Montgomery County is in the throes of what County Council members called an “epidemic” of pedestrian-involved crashes and deaths. Twenty-three days into the year, three pedestrians have been killed on roads in the county and dozens more have been injured.

Council Member Craig Rice called on the school district to implement a mandatory, countywide pedestrian safety education campaign to help raise awareness about the problem.

“I know it impacts school day, but the reality is a child who’s been hit and unfortunately may end up (dead) is never going to be able to attend a class or do any of the things you want them to do,” Rice said. “It’s worth it in the safety and lives of our students.”

Council Member Andrew Friedson said Thursday’s meeting is indicative of a larger-scale problem that will take all county and state agencies working together to fix.

“The bottom line is if we have to have to have students wear flashing lights and prevent them from crossing the roads, the roads aren’t safe enough for them to live,” Friedson said. “We’ve got huge, major issues we have to resolve. Just addressing bus stops and just addressing buses is not going to address the broader issue. We need to do all of it to make sure our students are safe.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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