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Parking solution is sought

Police are cracking down at Northwest Elementary School. The city hopes for a solution after the summer break.

By CHRISTINE GRAEF

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- The problems caused by a lack of parking spaces at Northwest Elementary School may soon be over for the summer when school ends early next month, but the city hopes to find a long-term solution to neighborhood complaints before classes resume in the fall.

Neighbors say they have put up with too much for too long, that too many parents are blocking their driveways and disrupting their neighborhood at school dismissal.

The city's transportation department conducted an observational study of 24th Avenue N on March 6 after residents complained about parents who were driving behind the 22nd Avenue N school to pick up students in the afternoon. The study found that "a lot of parents parked on both sides of the street, sometimes blocking driveways and traffic and sometimes turning around in residential driveways" between 2:30 and 3 p.m.

"It's a typical kind of complaint with schools, especially in the afternoon," said Mike Fredrick, the city's manager of neighborhood transportation. "Parking is limited and pickups become a problem."

Fredrick said that, nationally, mothers have been found to be on such tight schedules that they compromise their driving habits. The city frequently looks at ways to slow traffic down by changing street alignments or breaking areas into half-blocks. But the problem at Northwest, at 5601 22nd Ave. N, does not require slowing traffic as much as it needs compliance with the "no parking" and the "no parking, stopping or standing" signs posted on the street, Fredrick said.

"One solution might be to allow parking on the school side of the street, which doesn't require children to cross the street and leaves two-way traffic open," Fredrick said.

According to residents, the problem has been increasing over the years.

"I have videos from five years ago showing this same situation. A lot of these parents are really nice, but there are some who have blocked my driveway and who have been nasty to us and to police," said Mary Matthews, a resident since 1959.

Matthews is one of 19 residents who signed a petition this month asking the city to permanently close the city-owned walkway leading from 24th Avenue N to 22nd Avenue, which predates the building of the school. Students dismissed on that side of the school follow the walkway to parents trying to avoid the long line of cars waiting in front of the school.

The petition follows an April 27 request filed for the city to vacate the walkway. The request has been rescinded, but residents still want the traffic problem fixed.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, the St. Petersburg Police Department issued 11 $30 parking tickets to parents after neighbors complained. Several mothers who received citations said they were unfairly penalized because they said they did not park and did not block driveways. They also said residents should have contacted the school or PTA. Lt. Randy Bratton, traffic section commander of the St. Petersburg Police Department, said officers will continue to check the area sporadically. Tickets will be issued to anyone waiting for their children on 24th Avenue N during school hours. School hours include any time school is functioning, regardless of the 2:45 p.m. dismissal time, Bratton said.

"The best-case scenario is if the school directed students out the northeast gate leading to the parking area. Parents can walk down the block and meet their children," Bratton said. Bratton said the Police Department has encouraged the school to ask parents not to wait on 24th Avenue N.

"We've been to the PTA, School Board and the school time and time again over the years, but were always told to talk to the police because the street is the city's," said Connie Economus, a resident for more than 30 years. Economus and her husband, Theo, also signed the petition.

"The problem is the walkway. It was there for neighborhood students to walk home. But as the school grew, the problem became worse. Sometimes I can't get out of my driveway. Nobody wants that in front of their property."

Frank Bird, another resident who signed the petition, said, "Thirty years ago, when the school was built, there was no need for more parking and no space was allotted for more parking. As the school grew, so did congestion and so did the speed cars are traveling. What worries me is the safety of the children."

School Board member Jane Gallucci said there have been no recent communications from residents about the problem.

"We have had problems at other schools in the past and the solution has been to sit down and work it out," Gallucci said.

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