CORVALLIS, Ore. – Some parents in Corvallis want something done about a school bus stop they do not think is safe, so they invited a state lawmaker to see firsthand why they are concerned about the busy intersection.
On Thursday morning, State Representative Sara Gelser, D – Corvallis, stood at the corner of Merloy Avenue and Highway 20 with two middle schoolers while they waited for their bus.
Gelser saw the south-bound traveling bus pull slightly on to Merloy Ave. and stop between two ditches, blocking off traffic to and from the street. Because the bus pulled far enough off the shoulder, it did not turn on its lights to stop traffic. Vehicles in both directions continued to travel around the bus.
“When the bus comes in, it blocks all of Merloy Avenue straight across,” said Christine Kramer, who waits with her daughter every morning, and who invited Gelser to wait with her. “I don’t think you can deny how dangerous it is with these kids getting on and off the bus.”
Kramer says she initially contacted the school district asking for change, but the bus company thought it was making the safest stop. The district says stopping traffic could be a more dangerous option, and that it would not be safe to turn the bus around if it turned onto Merloy Ave. Determined for change, Kramer invited Gelser to watch Thursday morning’s bus pick-up.
“I had not yet heard about the issue of a school bus stopping without a stop arm coming out and kids standing right there on the side of the edge of the road,” Gelser said. “As a mom myself, I was really concerned about that and wanted to see what it looked like.”
Gelser says she is also concerned about the safety of the students.
“I was amazed at the cars whizzing by,” she said. “I was concerned about the safety of the bus starting to go again because it had to move into moving traffic from the side instead of coming in from a turn.”
Kramer and her neighbors are demanding change. They want the bus to turn on its flashers and stop all traffic.
“Which would basically completely eliminate the danger of all these moving cars trying to navigate around this huge bus that’s sitting there,” Kramer said.
The school district says it hears the neighbors’ concerns and it wants to make the safest decision possible.
“The Corvallis School District is very concerned about the situation at the intersection of Merloy and Highway 20, and we are working with the First Student bus company to determine the safest stop possible,” said Steve Nielsen, the Director of Finance and Operations at the Corvallis School District.
But the district argues that stopping traffic could be more dangerous.
“When we stop traffic, we increase the likelihood of rear-ending accidents, which are a common occurrence at that intersection,” said Kimberly Patten, the Facilities and Transportation Manager at the Corvallis School District. “Traffic is traveling at 55 miles per hour, and stopping traffic can be another safety issue.”
Patten says it is illegal for the bus to turn on its flashers if it pulls onto Merloy Ave. the way it currently does. If the bus were to stop traffic with its lights, it would have to stay in the lane of traffic.
“We’re evaluating if it’s safer to have an off-road stop or an on-road stop,” Patten said. “We have to weigh the safety of the off-street stop versus the visibility of the red lights stopping traffic.”
Patten says buses will turn on their flashers on other parts of the highway and stop traffic, only because there is not a spot to pull off the highway such as on Merloy Ave.
Neighbors suggested that the bus come down Merloy Ave. to turn around. But the street dead ends, and the school district says the bus would not be able to safely navigate a turn because of off-street parking.
But Gelser wonders if there could be a different solution.
“Even using a short school bus to come down the street to turn around,” she said. “I think a lot of people believe that short buses were made just for kids with disabilities, but they weren’t. All kinds of kids can ride on all sizes of buses.”
On Thursday, Kramer says only five students were on the bus as it left Merloy Ave, one of the route’s last stops.
But the district says it has a limited number of smaller buses, and they would still have a hard time turning it around.
Meanwhile, Kramer says she is determined for change.
“If it doesn’t change; if I can’t get the changes that I need, I will leave this neighborhood,” she said.
Patten rode the bus route on Thursday to see the route from the driver’s perspective. The district says it is considering having the bus turn on its flashers, and will make a final decision by Friday afternoon.
Kramer has set up a Facebook page, Saving Lives at Merloy Avenue, with more pictures and videos of the intersection. Click here to view the page.