So what’s a beautiful soccer mom like you doing in a minivan like this?…” 

No, not that kind of pickup line.  My son is attending a morning summer school camp.  Like many kids there, he has attended it for years.  For the last couple years, it’s been held at a local elementary school in a residential neighborhood.   The traffic pattern is not unusual.  There is a dropoff/pickup line stretching down the street leading to a right turn into the pickup zone and parking lot.  The pickup lane is clearly painted on the street with a dividing line, a lane marker and also on signs every 50 feet or so.  There are also conditional “No Parking” signs everywhere, though of course they have times on them that correspond to the elementary school pickup and dropoff times, not the times of the summer camp.  The camp sent a map with the packet of materials, clearly showing the traffic pattern and what not to do.

Some people didn’t look at the map. Fair enough.  Many looked at it, but decided they know better.  Typical.  Others may be attending for the first time and decided they would just figure it out on their own, I guess.  Most, I think, are just completely clueless.

You see, the street has enough room for 3 cars side-by-side.  One is the dropoff/pickup lane.  The other two lanes should be for two-way traffic.  The center lane is supposed to be for people driving past the pickup lane who want to pull into the parking lot, park and then walk to pick up their child.  The far lane is intended for oncoming traffic.

Of course, people choose every day to ignore the map, the signs and the traffic directors.  Instead, they opt to park on the far side of the street, instead of in the lot.  This is clearly prohibited on numerous signs for elementary school days, but they are ignored for summer camp.  That narrows the street to one lane of flowing traffic, shared among vehicles who want to go both ways.  It also means parents and kids are now crossing the street, darting out among the cars in the pickup lane to get to their own cars parked on the far side.

You would think people would learn from seeing the traffic problems and near misses after the first week of camp.  Instead, it only got worse as more people joined the club, thinking it will be faster.  People park and leave their cars on the far side of the street.  People park and leave their cars in the pickup lane.  People drive slowly past the pickup lane to the lot, suddenly cutting if there’s an opportunity to nose in front of someone in the pickup line (because they hadn’t kept on the bumper of the car in front of them).  People ignore the map and come from the opposite way.   They try to make a left turn around the cones to park in the lot,  or even cut into the pickup lane when the traffic directors aren’t paying attention.

  • Monday, Week 2: I arrive, the second car behind a minivan left parked in the pickup lane.  The blue convertible behind me decided it would save them a lot of time by cutting in front of me and the car in front of me, then nosed in front of the parked van.  The white minivan behind her decided that was now acceptable to do, also.  So she went past me, too, but was kind enough to roll her window down and tell me that the minivan ahead was parked, in an effort to explain why she was now cutting in line as well.  She is also now blocking the car in front of me from pulling out of the pickup lane, if they needed to do so.  These bright individuals apparently decided it was worth blocking the center lane of traffic for the next 10 minutes until camp was over, in order to pass a few cars. Later, with the line stretching dozens of vehicles behind me, another minivan decided to ignore the line and drove up behind the white minivan.  Her minivan was now partially boxing me in, too.  I decided to get out and tap on her window.  She was fiddling with a cellphone or something, but rolled her window down.  “Hi, I’m not sure if you noticed, but the line starts a few blocks back; we’re all waiting to go around this parked car.”   She stammered something I couldn’t hear, playing like she hadn’t noticed the same pickup line that forms every day.  She drove off, probably to cut farther down.  She put a cellphone to hear ear, now, rather than paying attention for kids now running across the street to cars parked on the wrong side.  Incredibly, all the cars that remained properly in the lane behind the parked van now simply pulled around it as the line began to move.
  • Tuesday, Week 2: I was in the pickup line as normal.  I’m now in the area with cars parked on the wrong side, limiting it to one lane of moving traffic.  My son hopped in and I pulled out to the center lane to proceed through the lot and then home.  At the same time, a savvy parent who had parked on the wrong side was doing the same thing.  There was now a stalemate.  I couldn’t go backward with cars behind me.  Ditto for her.  Normally, I could edge right in front of someone in the pickup lane to get around the person coming the wrong way, then go back into the center lane.  I wasn’t in a hurry.  So, I sat there making eye contact.  This lasted at least a few minutes until someone in the pickup line actually stopped and flashed their lights to let me pass, so I did.

Last week and on Monday and Tuesday of week 2, the traffic directors were mostly chatting with parents and keeping things orderly right at the pickup zone.  I guess they needed another person to attend to the dangerous situations on the street, too.  They were concerned that people in the pickup line not pick up or drop off their kids until they were right in front of the doors (I was guilty of that once on Tuesday, doh!).  They were also very concerned about people driving the opposite way on the street, then turning left to get into the lot instead of coming around the correct way.  Yes, these are important things, but hardly to the same degree of traffic or safety concern as the other issues happening on the street.  I’m glad it didn’t take a child being struck in traffic for the camp organizers to do something, or a fender bender that stops traffic for a half hour in order for parents to obey the suggested flow of traffic.

  • Wednesday, Week 2: I was going to get a nice photo or video of all the chaos to put into this blog. I fully expected to see the same person from yesterday’s stalemate parked on the wrong side again.  When I arrived, not a single car was parked on the far side.  I figured it would fill up over the next 10 minutes to pickup time.  Then I noticed one of the traffic directors was going car to car to every person who parked on the far side or in the cul-de-sac on that side of the street.  As soon as she would get one person to move, another would take their place instantly.  Simply Amazing.  I stepped out of my car and thanked her for alleviating a potentially dangerous situation.  She couldn’t talk for long, as the next person was trying to park.  When the kids were dismissed, the woman in front of me refused to move with the line.  The traffic director spotted it immediately and told her to keep moving.  I guess she didn’t want to turn into the pickup zone.  Apparently, it was more convenient for her to wait for her child on the street while blocking the pickup lane.  She even stalled for time after being told to pull forward, frantically trying to locate her child who was probaby waiting for her in the correct spot.  Meanwhile, someone coming from behind us pulled into the opening in front of her and cut into the pickup line…
  • Thursday, Week 2: There were a couple cars parked on the wrong side.  Perhaps they arrived before the traffic director took action.  When I arrived, the woman in front of me in the pickup line turned off her car, looked around discreetly and started walking to the exit doors.  The traffic director caught her and sent her back to move her car.  So, she pulled 100 feet down the road into the cul-de-sac and tried to park there, whereupon the traffic director followed her and told her to move again.  At dismissal time, the traffic director went back to the pickup zone, and cars immediately began to park on the wrong side and in the cul-de-sac.  One dad got out of his car and stood in the middle of the street waving to his kid (he did the same the next day and can be seen in the street dodging a car in the photo on the right, above).  What a great example for his child!

The irony in all this is that the camp is for gifted students.  I have to wonder where a lot of the students got their gift, because it certainly wasn’t from the person driving them!

  • Friday, Week 2: Today is the last day of camp.  There wasn’t a traffic director on parked car duty.  Maybe they were fed up with the clueless people; I know I would be.  So, it was back to business as usual, though it wasn’t as bad as it was earlier this week.  A video is worth 1000 words: