At 3pm every weekday it's a circus outside most primary schools in the country as parents vie for a parking space so they can collect their children. According to the Ministry of Education, "[o]ne of the most effective ways to ease traffic congestion at schools is to reduce the number of cars coming and going from your school".
But despite such alternatives as walking, cycling, bussing, car pooling and joining the walking school bus, our love affair with the convenience of private cars seems undiminished. Of course, parents who drive children to and from school are accused of "cotton-wool parenting" by the in-my-day-we-walked-ten-miles-to-school-barefoot-in-the-pouring-rain brigade - which just makes me wonder whether they also lived in a shoebox in the middle of the road.
Regardless, the reality of the traffic issues of today remains. Entering the school pick-up fray is not for the fainthearted. There's a lot of ignorant, selfish behaviour on display. "Illegal practices include double parking and parking on yellow lines, across driveways, and near crossings" all of which is "irritating for neighbours" and "unsafe for other road users," says the Ministry of Education. (For the record, I've never double-parked, parked on yellow lines, in a driveway, in a bus-stop or undertaken any other illegal and anti-social parking manoeuvre at school drop-off or pick-up. I always park lawfully and happily walk 300 or 400 metres or more into the school if I have to.)
Unfortunately not every parent is so well disciplined. Once I was driving along a street outside my daughter's school near 3 o'clock and the vehicle (a champagne-coloured 4WD) in front of me simply stopped where it was in the lane. Without indicating or even pretending to shift to the left, the driver blithely forced me (and whoever was behind me) to wait while a teenaged student emerged from the school grounds, sauntered across the road and got in the vehicle.
Parents routinely stop in the middle of the lane waiting on the off-chance that a car in an angle-park will vacate the space. In the meantime they're blocking the narrow road and holding up other vehicles attempting to legitimately use the road. Politeness coupled with a general fear of confrontation forbids me from shouting: "There isn't a park, Honey. Move on." Instead I wait, take deep breaths and fume silently.
School traffic can be an annoyance to the community at large. One NZ Herald reader asked: "Do private schools have their own rules regarding the use of public main roads? The parents of students at King's Prep School in Remuera certainly think so, as every morning they park on the yellow lines outside the school gate to drop off their children ... Do traffic officers ever blitz schools for instances like this?" The response was: "Parents with children at private schools certainly do not have privileges that others don't enjoy. Council, here's your chance to get rid of this nuisance, and maybe gather a bit of revenue at the same time."
The Ministry of Education's drawing of "an efficient traffic system" shows pick-up/drop-off zones within the confines of a school's grounds and if that's not possible it suggests the council may permit "a dedicated kerbside access area". These days there are yellow lines marking off a vehicle-wide lane on the road outside King's School accompanied by a sign that indicates parking is restricted to five minutes on school days. In a newsletter this area is referred to as "our drive-through zone on Remuera Road" and the parent handbook states "there are designated drop-off and pick-up zones" including one "between gates 1 & 2 in Remuera Road".
So what else can be done to ease vehicle congestion at schools, take the pressure off certain streets at key times of the day and reduce inconvenience to neighbours? Schools could take a zero tolerance stance against inconsiderate and illegal parking. Offenders could be named and shamed in school newsletters. People could be encouraged to consider alternative forms of transport for their children. Good luck with that one.
What's your school traffic like? More importantly, how well-mannered are the drivers? What can be done to make drop-off and pick-up less stressful?