Traffic calming sought outside Westchester Elementary School

Michael Vahlsing arrived at Westchester Elementary School in Catonsville well before the 3:45 p.m. dismissal time on Friday to pick up his children.

He even had time to walk his dog along the southbound 2300 block of Old Frederick Road, where no cars were parked at the curb closest to the school.

But, he said from experience, "In a few minutes, this will be filled."

Within 10 minutes, it was, and so was the curb on the school property, as parents queued up to collect their kids.

School buses rolled into the parking lot, more parents parked a short distance away and came up to the school door to walk their children back to their cars.

Westchester's physical education teacher, Bob Barbagallo, stood in the lot, directing traffic as he does most school days.

It all seemed orderly on a crisp, sunny day.

But Barbagallo said, "Sometimes, it gets a little crowded. On rainy days, it's just a nightmare."

That's almost exactly what Vahlsing told the Catonsville Times earlier in the week, when he complained that dropping children off in the mornings and picking them up in the afternoons was a daily danger.

"On rainy days, it's complete bedlam in the morning," said Vahlsing, 40, owner of a web design business and father of second-grader Joshua and third-grader Vivian.

School officials said there have been no accidents at the 14-year-old school.

But that is little comfort to Vahlsing, who estimated that motorists often exceed the 25 mph speed limit on Old Frederick Road.

"There's no reduce speed signs, no flashing lights," Vahlsing said. "There's not even a crosswalk there, nothing to suggest to a driver passing by the school that there's a reason to slow down."

Vahlsing has also complained persistently to County Councilman Tom Quirk, whose 1st District includes the Catonsville area.

"My goal is not to be snarky or confrontational, but when it comes to public safety, moreover the safety of grandparents and children, I am not one to stand still and hope things get done," he said in an Oct. 2 email to Quirk's aide, Catherine Engers.

Quirk said he has scheduled a meeting with Vahlsing and county transportation engineers and public works officials to discuss possible solutions, including traffic-calming measures on Old Frederick Road at Devere Lane.

"I think there are traffic concerns in general," Quirk said last week. "It's definitely an ongoing issue."

Vahlsing said he would like to see speed humps, but Engers told Vahlsing in a Sept. 13 email that Old Frederick Road is designated as a collector road and isn't eligible for speed humps.

Nonetheless, Quirk was optimistic that a fix can be found.

"There are things one can look at, maybe a traffic island," Quirk said.

Vahlsing said he has also requested a speed camera, and that Quirk's office has forwarded that request to the county police department.

Vahlsing also said he would like to see more sidewalks near the school and a crosswalk at Old Frederick and Devere.

"Once you get to the end of the school property, the sidewalks are gone," he said.

And he has proposed other measures, ranging from crossing guards to radar to making the area a school zone with a flashing yellow light, a speed limit sign and enforcement.

"The best thing, obviously, would be to have some kind of police presence there or a crossing guard," Vahlsing said. "I think that's an immediate fix."

Engers wrote in her email to Vahlsing that county officials tried to install sidewalks when a traffic circle was built in the area. But there were topography issues with installing sidewalks and the idea of sidewalks was not well-received by some of the homeowners in the area, who would be responsible for sidewalk maintenance, including snow removal.

Interviews with parents waiting in their cars to pick up their children Oct. 5 yielded mixed reactions on traffic problems.

"I don't really have any problems," said Mark Ford, of Dickeyville, waiting for his daughter, Aide, 5.

Holly Byron, waiting for her son, Jack, 6, said she would love to see a sidewalk from the school to Bryan's Mill Way, about three-quarters of a mile away.

"That would be awesome," she said. "Then most of these kids could probably walk."

Westchester Elementary Principal Peggy DeCrispino said Vahlsing has a point.

"I think high speed would be my biggest concern," she said. "Police are out there sometimes in unmarked cars. I think anything they could do to make folks a little more conscious and aware of their speed would be great."

Vahlsing said something needs to be done soon.

"You're tempting fate," he said.

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