Jersey City Public Schools: Street (Un)Safety Assessment
This Parent's View: Jersey City Public Schools have been an afterthought in Jersey City's development boom
Jersey City is seeing some amazing advocacy to improve the safety on our streets from local civic groups Safe Streets JC and Bike JC. They are helping drive a conversation about why Jersey City’s traffic status quo is UNACCEPTABLE and they are also helping the public re-imagine a new paradigm, through concepts like “Complete Streets” and “Road Diets“. But one element that we must add to this conversation is: street safety for our schools.
This is a quick overview of some concerns that I have around JCPS street safety. Schools require a unique degree of attention and care when we are looking to improve street safety. I’ve seen street un(safety) play out at two public schools in Jersey City, and there are clearly systemic issues. This assessment is not complete, but it is hopefully a start/continuation of a larger conversation that public school parents can have with regards to Safe Streets JC and Bike JC’s advocacy.
For most of my 12+ years in Jersey City I lived in downtown. My kids attended PS #22 (in Bergen Lafayette) and now PS #3 (in Van Vorst Park). I’ve witnessed a continued, obvious deterioration of street safety. I’ve walked, scooted, and driven my kids to two different schools in Jersey City. I’ve seen traffic grow worse, and less controlled, as Jersey City has developed over the past 10 years. I finally disallowed my kids from scooting because I grew concerned about their safety on the streets.
If you’re not a public school parent, teacher, or staff member then you may not know a few things about our school system. Let’s highlight a few things, namely:
- Geographic Scope
- Impact of Open Enrollment
- Illustrated examples of how Jersey City is failing its public schools in terms of street safety.
Jersey City Public Schools: Geographic Scope
40 Schools, 6 Wards, 30,000 Students, We are an open enrollment district.
Jersey City Public Schools is a 40-school K-12 district serving 30,000 students ranging in age from three-year olds (in PreK3) to teenagers in high school. Jersey City covers 21 square miles; it is the largest city in Hudson County and our schools cover that entire territory as the map shows:
Jersey City Public Schools: Open Enrollment
Not All Students Attend Their Home-Zone School
Jersey City Public Schools is an open enrollment district. Here’s what that means and why it’s essential to this conversation:
- Open Enrollment is a policy adhered to by the Jersey City Board of Education.
- This policy is mandated by the NJ Department of Education to ensure Jersey City is “compliant with state and federal laws governing equity in education programs.”
- Housing patterns in Jersey City result in schools lacking racial and ethnic diversity. Open Enrollment is a remedy for that lack of diversity; it results in parents sending their kids to schools outside their home school zone.
I think open enrollment is particularly important for cycling advocates to understand: biking to school will be a challenge for many; some schools are literally too far away, some kids are too small to be on a bike, some parents don’t have the the means to purchase a bike, and so on.
Open enrollment is a state mandate
Jersey City Public Schools must comply with this mandate
Policy documents spell out open enrollment clearly
It's about equity
Understanding All Stakeholders is Key
A school is not just about who lives nearby; it's about all stakeholders
These are just a few stakeholders in any given public school:
- Parents/caregivers who drive their kids to school
- Parents/caregivers who put their kids on a bus to school (from a neighborhood outside the zone of the school)
- Parents/caregivers who walk their kids to school (these are people who live in the school zone)
- Teachers and school staff, many if not most who drive to school from other towns or neighborhoods
- Crossing guards who must control traffic at busy intersections
- Bus Drivers
- Local businesses, e.g. near PS #3 there is Jersey City Medical Center, Banyan Cafe, 99 Ranch, etc.
- Local residents
Each of these stakeholders has a perspective about street safety. Frustrations abound; for instance, at my school (PS #3) there is neither a legal drop-off zone nor dedicated parking for parents who drive their kids to school. This results in parents double and triple parking near the school gates. But this disrupts traffic flow. It also creates hazards for parents who walk their kids to school. Crossing guards are forced to manage the dysfunctional traffic flow and ensure safe passage across congested streets. But crossing guards lack enforcement authority; they cannot ticket and they armed, at most, with a stop sign and a yellow jacket.
An Example of City Dysfunction: PS #22
In 2015, PS #22 administrators, teachers, and parents tried to get traffic calming measures at PS #22. Nothing Happened.
PS #22: 16 Busses, 150 Kids Getting Dropped Off
PreK & Special Needs Students at Greatest Risk
I took this picture in March 2015. I’m standing at the corner of Halladay and Maple Streets in Bergen Lafayette. Busses are lined up on Halladay at the back of the school, dropping off mostly preK and special needs students. In total, there are over a dozen busses that needed to drop off 100+ kids within a 15-20 minute period at #22 school.
Cars Double-Park, Busses Forced to Overhang Intersections
Pedestrians are put at risk.
I took this picture in March 2015. I’m standing at the corner of PS #22 and it shows how pedestrians are unavailable to cross the street to school without crossing into vehicular traffic.
On March 11, 2015 I pleaded with the City Council to help.
But nothing has changed.
I went to the March 11, 2015 City Council meeting on behalf of the PS #22 Parent Council to plead for help from the city. I was told by three council representatives that we’d get help. Rolando Lavarro and Joyce Watterman were the only representatives who followed through, but nothing changed; the levers of city government failed to operate, and we at the school gave up. PS #22 is no different today – October 2017 then it was in March 2015, and some might argue it’s only grown worse.
An Example of City Dysfunction: PS #3 & MS #4
Schools Stuck in the Traffic Crosshairs of Downtown Development
I created this map to give a sense of the typical traffic patterns that engulf PS #3 and MS #4. On a good day, most commuter traffic comes off Route 78 (aka the Turnpike Extension) and heads east on Grand. But some days PSEG is doing work, an accident occurs, a water main breaks, etc. Many of these factors occur along Grand Street due to ripple effects of construction. On these “not so good days”, commuter traffic floods the side streets, including the street entrances to PS #3 and MS #4.
Street Signs Outside of Schools Remain Broken for Months
We can't get signs replaced
I took this picture at PS #3 in October 2017. “Pedestrian Right of Way” sign is broken. The crossing guard at PS #3 has repeatedly requested a new sign, but JCPD / Jersey City haven’t yet provided one.
Crossing Guards' Signs are Destroyed by Traffic
We can't get signs replaced
I took this picture at PS #3 in October 2017. The “Pedestrian Right of Way” sign was run over by a car last year. The crossing guards have made repeated requests to have it replaced. A parent shared this on “See Click Fix” but it remained a dormant issue, and was eventually marked as “resolved.” But it’s not resolved.
So the guard is forced to use her hand-made stop sign and an orange traffic cone to alert traffic to stop.