City looks to alleviate school traffic on Porter

Vehicles wait along Porter Road on Monday afternoon to enter the Saddleback Elementary School driveway. Some residents say the road is dangerous.

The City of Maricopa is working with public and charter schools to develop plans to alleviate traffic congestion and the blocking of roadways during school drop-off and pickup hours.

The most prominent area of study is the southern end of Porter Road. The area is home to seven schools: Saddleback Elementary; A+ Charter School; Heritage Academy; Leading Edge Academy; Legacy Traditional School; Sequoia Pathway Academy; and Central Arizona College. That area becomes congested daily with cars waiting to drop off or pick up students, backing up traffic into the streets.

The city’s Development Services Department Director, Rodolfo Lopez, gave a presentation to the council regarding steps the city is taking to alleviate the traffic issues. He said city engineers and staff have been meeting with representatives of all the city’s schools since late 2021, holding four round-table meetings to help the city understand the pickup and drop-off plans for each school.

One takeaway from those meetings was that the traffic control plans originally submitted by the schools during their development process have been altered over the years.

Maricopa Director of Development Services Rudy Lopez presented ideas at Tuesday’s city council meeting to reduce traffic around the city’s schools. [Jay Taylor]
Lopez said the city also shot drone footage of the traffic patterns during busy hours to compare how the traffic fans compared to the actual execution of student pickup and drop-off.

“We’re realizing that those solidified traffic control plans, traffic plans we have blessed in a way, have somewhat steered away from its original plan,” he said.

He said after assessing the traffic plans and video footage, city staff identified five schools as having traffic problems – Legacy, Saddleback, Heritage, Santa Rosa, and Butterfield. He offered a series of suggestions for how schools can improve the traffic in their areas:

  • Increasing the campaign for walking and biking to school
  • Revising internal circulation plans on school grounds
  • Utilizing vacant/unused parking stalls
  • Maximizing internal drive aisles
  • Utilizing bus pullout areas
  • Expanding and promoting the busing program
  • Hiring off-duty police officers for afternoon traffic control
  • Alternating or staggering the schools’ release times

Lopez said schools will be required to submit revised traffic plans before the start of the upcoming school year. He added that if queuing into the public rights of way continues, Maricopa Police will begin ticketing drivers who block the roadways – initially with “warning” tickets, followed by enforceable traffic citations.

City Manager Rick Horst said all the plans and rules in the world won’t help if the parents who are driving their children to and from school don’t cooperate.

“In addition to these plans, even if they are executed well, we have parents who want to cheat the system,” Horst said. “They’ll park in the neighborhood and tell their kid to run across the street and meet me down by the corner of this street and I don’t think they fully understand what they are asking their children to do.

“It’s ultimately the responsibility of the parents to get their children to and from school safely. The city and the schools can do their parts, but after that there’s not much we can do. So, it’s really a three-pronged effort – the schools, the city and the parents.”

Council member Rich Vitiello said he thinks the city will have to make a concerted effort to improve the situation.

“My issue is obviously with the schools actually doing what we say they’re going to have to do,” he said. “Which means we are going to have to put officers out there to enforce this. We already went through that there’s not enough officers to do all this schooling. We have to hold schools accountable. Without holding them accountable, we can’t do it all.”

Vitiello didn’t put all the responsibility at the feet of the schools. Like Horst, he said it will be up to parents to follow the plans the city and schools develop. And he said that might be tough to achieve.

“Some of these parents, I know I’m sticking my neck out, just don’t care,” Vitiello said. “They care about themselves. But guess what, we have to care about everybody. We have to care about those kids on bicycles, skateboards, scooters. I don’t want to see anybody get killed.”

Porter Road traffic on Monday afternoon – YouTube