Putting aside for the moment the impact of 3 years of construction at the site of a functioning school building, a close look at the traffic study that was performed (at a cost of almost $20K) reveals future problems for the Wildwood neighborhood and issues with the study itself.
The traffic study was meant to determine the impact of transforming the Wildwood campus from its current form into a building to house all Amherst Grade 2-6 students and the staff who would work there. The firm used a “Trip Generation Calculator” to account for the difference between the current enrollment of 415 students and the proposed enrollment of 750 students. The increase of 335 students is an increase of 81% and that percentage was then applied to the current traffic data they collected.
However, this formula does not account for the implications of a town-wide grade reconfiguration. In other words, it assumes that 335 more students and associated staff would be coming from the same geographic area as they do now, but that is not the case. Students would be coming from all over the Town of Amherst to attend the new consolidated school. Instead of the current 6-7 buses serving Wildwood, there wouldn’t be 81% more buses (or 11-12 total); there would be twice that (23 buses) transporting kids from all over town to this building. The number of children and adults who can currently walk and bike to their school will be dramatically diminished under reconfiguration and consolidation so those numbers should also be added to the impact study.
What else didn’t the study consider?
The study also did not attempt to analyze the potential impact of changed patterns in parent pick-up and drop-off caused by the grade reconfiguration. It did not address at all the impact on the Crocker Farm campus of quadrupling the number of buses serving that campus or the increased number of cars from parent pick-up/drop-off.
The transit of 23 buses and parents’ cars between the Crocker Farm and Wildwood campus, either through downtown or via South East street, during the morning and afternoon commute was likewise not studied. The geographic distribution of educators and staff relative to the current 3 schools or the proposed 2 schools and the implications for town-wide traffic patterns is also unknown.
It is important to note that the traffic study was not authorized and performed until well after the decision had already been made to reconfigure and consolidate the Town’s elementary schools. The potential impact on traffic of demolishing one school, building a double-sized school on one campus, and dividing all the kids based on grade level into the north and south of Town was not factored into the decision-making process.
What did the study conclude/recommend?
The study did note that, at present, about ¾ of the vehicles on Strong Street travel in excess of the speed limit. It recommended the removal of some trees for visibility issues and the addition of right and left turning lanes to exit the campus.
It also concluded that “demand would exceed capacity” at the intersection of East Pleasant St and Strong St during the morning and afternoon peak school commuting hours and recommended improvements to this intersection. The potential costs to the Town of such improvements are not included in the proposed plan and would be borne by the Town without state subsidy.