City police take charge of Bester traffic fiasco

September 15, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown Police this week are trying to prevent the daily traffic jumble at Bester Elementary School's parking lot from spilling onto South Potomac Street.

Police supervision is the latest chapter in what parent Dodie Green says is a frustrating 10-year-old traffic mess.

"We have over 115 cars who come in and get children every day," said Green, a vocal advocate for making a change. "Where are we supposed to go? That's what we want to know."

In May 2003, Dennis McGee, the Washington County Board of Education's director of facilities management at the time, said he expected a solution - an extra parking lot - by the summer of 2004.


However, Keith Moore of the Hagerstown engineering firm Frederick Seibert & Associates said last week that plans for the parking lot are still being designed.

School Principal Joanne Hilton has said the traffic problem is worse after school, when dozens of cars clog the school parking lot at once, anticipating the dismissal bell. The last vehicles often wait on the edge of - or even on - South Potomac Street, affecting traffic.

On Tuesday, even a school bus was forced to keep the road clear.

"You're going to have to circle around," Officer Carroll Braun told a bus driver waiting in South Potomac's left-turn lane. "We can't block traffic anymore."

"Circle around where?" the bus driver replied, before moving on, as directed.

Timothy Flaherty said Tuesday that he got a ticket Monday when he parked in a lot across the street.

He said he must park because the school won't release his son - Ryan, 4, who's in kindergarten - unless he's at the door to meet him.

When Flaherty returned to his vehicle, it had a $15 parking ticket on it, he said. He said he thinks other vehicles got tickets, too.

On Tuesday afternoon, as Braun handled the school traffic, a second police officer kept vehicles out of the parking lot across the street, which Flaherty said is usually packed with parents' cars.

That parking lot belongs to New Deal Truck Parts & Service and Cassidy Trucking, but the off-street strip where Flaherty was ticketed is a city right-of-way, according to Bill McCleaf, who manages both truck businesses.

McCleaf said he called the police not because of the infringement on his parking, but because of the potential safety problems. He said parents park in his lot and cross South Potomac Street there, away from the intersection and the crossing guard.

"I'm not no mean guy," McCleaf said. "I don't want to see these kids getting hit."

He said he's seen wild behavior - drivers cutting across grass into the school parking lot, making quick U-turns in his driveway, using his sidewalk as a shortcut - and he's concerned.

On Tuesday, a day after at least two vehicles were ticketed near his business, parents who found out that he had called the police yelled at him, McCleaf said.

Hagerstown Police Sgt. Steve Bussard said Tuesday that the enforcement at and around Bester Elementary School will continue as long as "manpower permits."

Green - who has a daughter, Maggie, in kindergarten - said she heard that at least one parent got a $70 moving violation ticket Monday for having a vehicle partly blocking South Potomac Street.

Trying to confirm that Tuesday, Green asked numerous drivers in the parking lot and on South Potomac Street if they knew who it was, but she had no luck.

Representatives from the Maryland State Police and the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration each said in phone interviews that the fine for "causing standing vehicle to obstruct free vehicle passage of roadway," the applicable infraction, is $45.

City Clerk Donna K. Spickler confirmed that the city's ordinance sets parking ticket fines at $15. The fine increases to $25 if it's not paid within 10 days and to $35 after 30 days, she said.

Flaherty said he might fight his ticket because he thinks a judge will sympathize, but he's not sure if he can afford to miss a day of work.

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