TxDot discusses traffic around Harlan High School–no pedestrian should cross 471

Those living on the far northwest side will see another new high school opened by Northside ISD next week. It’s the third such school to open in the last decade by the state’s fourth-largest school district – another indication of the rapid growth in the area.

When Harlan High School opens traffic volumes will certainly surge and some new elements will be introduced. We actually sat down with folks from NISD, Harlan High School and Bexar County last month to discuss a host of issues we are already expecting. With that meeting in mind – and the below question – let’s discuss what you can expect.

Will you be adding a light or crosswalk on West FM 471 in front of the new Harlan High School opening this year? I’ve already seen many children running back and forth across this street that is filled with large trucks from the quarry down the street.- Christine

 

The big picture


The first thing – and most important thing – we want people to know is we have a traffic signal study planned at the intersection of FM 471 and Cheyenne Pass in September to determine the actual, data-driven need for a signal at this location to accommodate both traffic coming out of the subdivision and the pedestrian traffic you’ve already started to observe. You can read more about how that warrant study works in a previous post we had about how we determine when and where to install traffic signals.

Right now we actually do not want anyone crossing FM 471 near Harlan High School – we do not have any pedestrian protections and crossing FM 471 at this location is extremely dangerous. Northside ISD will provide buses for students in that community to cut down the potential of kids trying to dart across in front of the heavy trucks cruising through there. We are installing signs to discourage the practice and will rely on law enforcement to keep kids from ignoring these signs.

To recap, here is what we are doing (and what we are not doing):

We are conducting a traffic signal and pedestrian study in September, once traffic around the school normalizes

We are working with Northside ISD to post signs prohibiting pedestrian traffic along FM 471 near Harlan High School

We are posting signs with flashing yellow beacons on FM 471 around the high school to encourage drivers to slow down

We are not ignoring the issue or unaware

We are not taking the issue lightly, and are thus working closely with school administration and county staff to ensure we’re seeing things from all angles

Future pedestrian accommodations

When the county’s work on FM 471 is finished (it extends to Old FM 471 – just shy Harlan High School) bike lanes and sidewalks will help pedestrian students get almost all the way to campus. We already have a project on the books to address the issue further and will continue what the county is doing for us all the way out to the Bexar-Medina county line. That project is scheduled to get going in 2021, but we are looking at options to accelerate that plan.

We need traffic signals

As we said before we have a process to determine when and where to install signals. This process is pretty well set in stone and we can’t deviate from it. If we do find a location warranting a signal we will begin the process to make that happen. In case people are wondering a typical signalized intersection comes with a $250K price tag. That doesn’t keep us from putting in a signal where it’s warranted, but it does mean we take greater care to ensure actual need. We’ve also found installing signals where they’re not actually warranted creates congestion and safety problems we want to avoid.

As for the pedestrian need, those warrant standards actually tell us to construct a pedestrian bridge and exercise every other available option before installing a signal to manage a crosswalk. We are following that directive by working with the school district to ensure kids don’t have the need to walk across the busy road.

The big takeaway

If you’re a resident of the area and do not have a student at Harlan, please realize students will be coming and going from about 6:30 a.m. until after 6 p.m. Extracurricular activities run both before and after normal school hours. It also means you’ll be driving through two high school areas on your way to Loop 1604 with Taft High School just down the road. That first two weeks is going to be rough – but not just for you. It’s going to be rough for everyone across the county, with hundreds of thousands of kiddos headed to school after being off the last three months.

We know of the need to take a look at the area around Harlan High School, and we’re doing just that. We are working with the county and the school district to identify and address issues. We know there are many who may observe some issues and write in or call in – we hope these folks will get this message and know we are already working on solutions. (In fact … we would ask you to post this to your community’s Facebook page or NextDoor thread to ensure the word gets around.) Until the traffic situation normalizes we cannot predict exactly how traffic will behave, and we need to know exactly what we are dealing with to really make the right things happen.

That first week or two, though … well, traffic patterns should be interesting. We hope residents in the area will realize everyone is working to figure out exactly what route will be best for their family and what happens through the first week of September is certainly not indicative of what you’ll see through the duration of the school year.

The bottom line: we are all going to struggle together to figure out the new traffic patterns that come with school. After those first two weeks we will look at the situation around this new school (and others) and determine what, if anything, can be done to address any outstanding issues.

Between now and then, be safe and drive smart! And don’t try passing any school buses!

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1 Comment

  1. Michelle M Barrentine

    I understand and appreciate the desire to not spend unnecessary money on traffic control and the desire (requirement) for data-driven decisions.
    As a resident since 2005, however, I know that there have been any number of accidents and several fatalities between cars, cars and trucks, and even cars and bikes. There is no shortage of potential data on how long it takes cars turning from neighborhoods on the westbound/southbound side of the road toward FM1604, especially during morning rush hour. Part of that equation is the heavy trucks coming off FM211 that cannot stop quickly and often exceed the speed limit. There will be similar problems in the afternoon when the students need to turn left off one of the two high school access roads to go toward Castroville.
    My bottom line is that it is a no-brainer that a traffic light is/has been needed somewhere between old FM471 and Geronimo Forest to control traffic; this has been a long-term need that is only being heightened by having hundreds of young, inexperienced drivers on the road. Shame on the county for not thinking and planning ahead with the data they could have used up to now!

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