The needler in the haystack.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Stillman School parking issues more complex than they seem

Some stakeholders in Stillman School neighborhood.

Stillman School
Existing school parking
Club (nights and weekends)
Amaker & Porterfield
Motorcycle Club
Live Poultry Market
Queen City Tours
Auto Shop
Check-cashing Store
Rex Bedding Parking Lot

Parking has been an issue for Plainfield's Stillman School's teachers and staff for at least thirty years or more. When I moved to Plainfield, my next door neighbor Cindy taught first-grade at Stillman and parking was a hassle then.

But one's attention can drift, and it wasn't until special ed teacher Tania Center brought the matter up at last week's Special Meeting of City Council, that I began to put some of the pieces together.

For instance, that I was nearly hit trying to scoot across the intersection of West 4th Street and Madison Avenue one recent afternoon while school was in session. The reason? The northbound side of West 4th Street from Arlington to Madison was parked solid with vehicles, obscuring the view of oncoming traffic on West 4th. That, plus the tendency of drivers to treat West 4th as a drag strip make this a very dangerous corner indeed.

While Ms. Center's plea seems reasonable, and the actions proposed by the city's traffic bureau (as portrayed by Ms. Center) seemed heavy-handed, no one appeared to be taking the larger view.

That came to mind especially as I read David Rutherford's take on the matter (see his post here), where he stated that Stillman is 'a school that is not on heavily commercial blocks'.

Using the Google map above, let's take a look at the immediate neighborhood and the stakeholders involved and some of the options for addressing the thicket of issues presented by so many users and uses over the course of a normal week.

First, the school itself (A). The building is a compact, handsome example of school design from the 1950s or 1960s. It is the most 'urban' setting of any Plainfield public school building, sharing its small city block with Maple Crest Park, which is actually a fenced-in City playground entirely occupied by basketball courts which are mostly used for pickup games of soccer, with not a maple tree or crest in sight.

The school's footprint includes a parking lot (1) with about 20 spaces and  small fenced-in playground adjacent to and above the grade of the City space.

When compared to more capacious school sitings and buildings, such as Barlow, Woodland and Clinton, one could be forgiven for thinking Stillman seems treated as something of a step-child of the District.

To round out the picture of Stillman School as a stakeholder, we must take into account the students. While many seem to walk to school, and there are traffic jams on West 4th and Madison Avenue at closing time, Arlington Avenue becomes impassable for periods of time at the end of each day as school buses park there, completely blocking traffic while waiting -- with their flashing lights on -- to pick up students.

Next, let's look at residents and other uses in the area.

To the south of the school, along West 5th Street (Route 28) the block between Madison and Arlington is completely occupied by residences, only some of which have garages or onsite parking. The spillover from occupants often occupies the parking on the school's side of West 5th Street.

Arlington Avenue is divided between light industrial buildings near the corner of West 5th and rowhouse multi-family structures in the middle of the block along Arlington to West 4th. Except for one which has one off-street parking space, they are without garages or onsite parking. The occupants park along the opposite side of Arlington from the school.

The building at the corner of West 4th and Arlington houses a club (B) which rents out space for parties and events. With no parking of its own, there is a constant tug-of-war over parking for their weekend and evening users. Many times, the club's renters park illegally on West 4th Street or on Arlington on the school side of the street, creating congestion and problems for area residents.

Crossing West 4th Street, Arlington Avenue is lined on both sides with buildings housing light industrial uses. A portion of one of them has been converted into a very active church (C) that draws considerable numbers of congregants to services throughout the week.

At the very foot of Arlington stands the property where Amaker & Porterfield school buses and other vehicles are stored and maintained (D). Amaker & Porterfield make heavy use of this half-block (as well as the short block of West 3rd connecting it to Madison Avenue) both in the morning and the afternoon as their buses disperse to pick up students or return after their rounds. The short block of West 3rd Street also contains several multi-family rowhouses whose tenants must park on the street.

At the corner of West 3rd and Madison Avenue is another small building used as a clubhouse by a motorcycle club (E). While mostly unobtrusive and with a small lot next door, the area becomes impassable in good weather when those participating in the group's rides clog Madison Avenue from Second Street to West 4th plus the side streets with bikes and other vehicles.

Moving southward from West 3rd to West 4th on Madison Avenue, there are the heavy traffic generated by a roofing firm and a mattress factory. Tucked in the middle of that half-block is a thriving live poultry market (F) whose side parking lot also serves as a sort of gathering place and social center during good weather.

Crossing West 4th Street on Madison Avenue, the west side of the street is occupied by Queen City Tours (G), where its buses are parked; a large and long-standing auto repair shop (H); a check-cashing store with a steady stream of customers parking on Madison Avenue (I); and two multi-family residences.

Besides all this, we should bear in mind that West 4th and West 5th Streets, going one way in opposite directions, are State Highway 28 in this area, and Madison Avenue is constantly busy as a 'shortcut' street from North Plainfield to 7th Street (or even South Plainfield) which avoids the traffic lights and congestion of Central and Park Avenues.

This is quite a complicated stew of users and uses. If there's one thing life has taught us about such situations is that if they work, they work like a Swiss watch. When one aspect is adjusted in some drastic way, everything can quickly get out of kilter.

Hence, I think, the incident where I nearly got hit just trying to cross a busy intersection whose sight-lines were obscured by too many vehicles parked along the street. Truth to tell, the driver who nearly hit me probably couldn't see me either.

I think Mr. Rutherford has concluded a little too quickly that the "issue is resolved' (see his post here).

Seems to me the whole area could benefit from a public discussion by all the stakeholders of the issues involved and some 'big picture' thinking.

One possibility might be for the District to approach the owners of Rex Bedding, who use their lot at West 4th and Madison (J) for employee parking -- though it is never full. Or Queen City Tours, which uses its lot basically as a place to store its buses -- perhaps a better place could be found for them, and the District could buy their lot?

Or perhaps the City and the District could come to some agreement about long-term use of the underutilized public parking lot behind the houses across Arlington Avenue from the school?

In any event, unless the school's principal suggests all the teachers bike to work and the teachers take him up on it, my guess is we aren't out of the woods yet.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

View today's CLIPS here. Not getting your own CLIPS email daily? Click here to subscribe.


Anonymous said...

For the sake of accuracy, it is the Parking Bureau of Public Works who is involved in this situation and not the Traffic Bureau of the Police Division.

With that being said, maybe the Police Traffic Bureau should be a part of all this.

Anonymous said...

Teachers are well compensated in Plainfield. If legal parking is of concern to them, they can easily buy a permit to park in the municipal lot. Of course, they will cry about "fairness" and grieve over having to buy permits when others do not. The world is full of constraints and adults learn to live with them. Other commuters do.

Anonymous said...

Wow you really spin things your way. If you are crossing a street and cars are in the way what do you do wait to you are in the middle of the street before looking for cars. How hard is it to look before you cross around the parked cars. A car coming down the street is quote large and easy to spot. If you watch some people that walk while on the phone and are clueless. Also with all your analysis how did you miss city lot next to parking authority. Maybe a 30 second walk from the school. Let's things of mall employees that have to park in off site lots. Also Rex bedding has only some truck traffic and no walk in business and the roofing company exits most of the time onto central ave.

Anonymous said...

Dan you should let everyone know How many crossing guards have been hit on that same corner!!! And no they were not on their phones!!!!!