Transportation Limits Prompt Varied Views in Community, Neighborhood

Cars in line outside the lower/middle school building. Photo by Sawyer Thompson.

During class meetings on Oct. 3, Head of School Russell Shaw made an announcement to officially inform students about GDS’ Transportation Management Plan and its policies regarding school-related traffic during weekdays.  

GDS’ transportation policy requires students who do not take public transportation or do not have a parking spot to carpool to school with at least one other student. According to the school’s transportation marketing associate, Chris Oster, the Transportation Management Plan dictates that a student’s first two times violating the policy result in a warning from Oster. The student’s third, fourth and fifth violations result in fines of 50, 100 and 250 dollars, respectively. A sixth violation results in a discussion with the administration and a risk of expulsion. 

The plan outlines the fact that GDS must work to curb traffic congestion in the neighborhood by lowering the amount of vehicles coming to campus. To help achieve this goal, Oster has encouraged students to use public transportation by giving out Kids Ride Free cards, which allow students ages 5 to 21 to ride D.C. public transportation for free. 

Shaw explained in his announcement that drop-offs that were not taking place on campus and were within a certain radius of the school violate GDS’ agreement with the neighborhood’s Board of Zoning Adjustment. 

Oster added that he is trying to give students who break the carpool rules a “bit of leeway” when it comes to handing out penalties. “We really want to start approaching it at first from a little bit of a restorative aspect: How can we help people meet the carpool requirement?” he said. He added that he has been working to expand GDS’ bus network, to encourage carpooling and to create no pick-up and no drop-off areas around the school to prevent traffic. 

According to Oster, on Nov. 15, he, Shaw and other administrators will attend a meeting with the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, as mandated by the Transportation Management Plan. At the meeting, the school will be evaluated on its “compliance with the terms” of the agreement, according to the plan. Oster said that there are 21 years before the terms of the agreement can be renegotiated.

“The school has not been much of an inconvenience,” neighborhood resident Elizabeth Rankin said, referring to the school’s current transportation system and the amount of morning carpool traffic. 

However, other neighborhood residents have been taking note of students who violate the carpool or drop-off rules and have emailed Oster to report the incidents. Oster explained that the emails from neighbors are an “informal” system created by the neighbors, and that he does his best to investigate every violation.

Karen Milbourne, a neighborhood resident, has seen students violate the agreement, though has not reported them to the school. “Sometimes I’ve come home to find kids parked in front of my house,” she said. Milbourne said she doesn’t think students understand that once they park in the neighborhood, “you’ve blocked people out of their own home.”   

Oster said that many students on the Environmental Task Force (ETF) have been grateful for the carpool policy because it has curbed traffic and carbon emissions. He also said that many families have expressed gratitude for the new GDS bus system and that over a quarter of the student body takes the buses to school. 

“We now have ten bus routes,” he said. “We didn’t have any before, other than a shuttle between the high school and the old lower and middle school campus on MacArthur Boulevard. Parents are very effusive in their praise. It has made their lives easier for many of them.”

“I am learning a lot about different problems in the environment,” junior and ETF co-head Lina Fawaz said of her UL environmental science class. “The more I learn about it, the more I realize how much of an issue it is and how good it is that GDS is striving to make a difference.”

However, many students either have not heard of or have mixed opinions about the Transportation Management Plan. In an interview with the Bit, junior Toby Viorst said that he had not previously heard of the plan or the parking boundaries around the school. He said that he thought the fines for violating the plan were unfair given the school’s high tuition. 

Freshman Eric Liu said that he could understand the plan as a way to respect the neighbors. “I don’t have a horse in this race; I take the Metro,” he said, “though it could negatively affect residents in the area if there is tons of traffic everywhere.” Despite their differing views about the plan, Liu, freshman Nick Salehizadeh and sophomore Noah Cheeks agreed that overall, if the school’s transportation policies benefit the neighborhood, they are good to have in place.

When asked about the penalties for violators of the Transportation Management Plan, particularly the risk of expulsion on the sixth violation, Salehizadeh said that it seemed fair considering that “by the sixth time, you should know better.” Conversely, Cheeks said that the penalties seemed “kind of bogus” and that the risk of expulsion should be brought down to risk of suspension.