The new Denton High School has been open for two weeks — just enough time for pickup and drop-off traffic congestion to raise hackles, and for families to consider if their students can walk and bike safely to and from school.
Idling on Bronco Way
Before school started, Principal Joel Hays mounted his cellphone on his dashboard and recorded a virtual ride-along to the school from the intersection of Windsor Drive and Bonnie Brae Street, pointing out that students driving themselves to school take the first left on Bronco Way to get to their parking lot. He kept the camera rolling to show families driving their teens to school take the second left into a one-way, three-lane drop-off zone. He made a second video showing the route from north of the school, driving from U.S. Highway 77 to Bonnie Brae.
Students who live less than 2 miles from the new school aren’t eligible to catch a school bus bound for Denton High.
The videos earned some likes when Denton ISD posted them on social media. But the first week of school especially, some parents said the congestion was severe. And in local Facebook groups, posters railed that their GPS had routed them to Westgate Drive, which isn’t connected to Bronco Way. The route, if it was brought to you by Google Maps, dead-ends at a barbed wire fence and an unpaved portion of road.
Westgate Drive runs into a small neighborhood that asked city leaders to guarantee protection from increased traffic as a 2014 bond package improved part of the same road.
District officials said the first few weeks of school typically come with lines of cars idling, waiting to get to the drop-off area, at all campuses. In a local Facebook group, one parent posted that their student didn’t get to school until the second class period, thanks to traffic.
Denton ISD spokesperson Julie Zwahr said it’s common for traffic to be heavy during the first week of school but that congestion usually eases quickly.
“Each day school has been in session, and as our students and staff have settled into their daily routines, traffic has improved,” Zwahr said. “Arrival and dismissal when comparing Day One to Day 10 look completely different, and more efficient.”
Students who walk or bike to Denton High will have to wait, but improvements are on the way. The district and the city of Denton’s Capital Projects and Engineering Department will have a special-called meeting at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday to discuss upcoming projects to permanently improve pedestrian and bicycle access to the school. The meeting will be at the city’s Development Services Building, 401 N. Elm St.
To school on two wheels
Eiyala Sawadivong, a freshman at Denton High, gets to school on his mountain bike. He carries a backpack and then brings his baseball gear home on his bike. He’ll occasionally get a ride if the weather is bad, but Sawadivong usually bikes to school from his neighborhood, which is near the University of North Texas campus.
When the district broke ground on the new school, Sawadivong said the distance came to mind first.
“I thought it was going to be a long bike ride, because throughout my time at Calhoun [Middle School] and at my elementary school, I biked myself everywhere,” he said. “I think I biked myself to school more in the past three years than any other form of transportation combined. So yeah, 3 miles away — long bike ride, rather annoying, but it works.”
He alternates routes, sometimes biking north on Malone Street through North Lakes Park and the nearby neighborhood. Other times, he’ll ride north on Ector Street and take a side street to Bonnie Brae. Sawadivong said he usually cruises down the sidewalk along Bonnie Brae to cross University Drive, a main thoroughfare that isn’t the friendliest roadway for pedestrians and cyclists, and then heads to school.
“I know it’s not technically the most legal thing to do, right? But it’s better than riding on the road,” he said. “Because, first of all, it’s a really busy street that’s only two lanes. So people are drawn from point A to point B really fast. And also, you know when you’re in high school, those kids don’t drive very well. It’s quite a bike ride.”
Sometimes Sawadivong swerves around broken glass on the sidewalk along Bonnie Brae, too. While he said he feels confident on his bike, he said the route could be scary for new or more cautious cyclists.
For the first few weeks of school, Sawadivong said students who biked to Denton High didn’t have any bike racks to lock up their bikes.
“They’re getting bike racks,” he said. “They told us they were not here yet, so they told us to lock our bikes to the iron benches outside the school.”
Betsi Good, Sawadivong’s mother, said her family bikes regularly and feels confident when it comes to the rules of the road and safety.
“Some other parents have told me that they live too close to the school to be on a bus route, but their work schedules don’t make it easy to do drop-offs or pickups. But they also don’t feel like it’s safe enough for their students to bike to school. And I get it,” Good said.
Responding to residents
Rebecca Diviney, the director of capital projects and a city engineer for Denton, said her team has been collecting feedback from the capital improvement projects near the new campus through the Engage Denton app. The feedback is informing two planned projects the city says will permanently improve access for pedestrians and cyclists.
Both projects are included in Phase 6 of the Bonnie Brae Street capital improvement project, which covers the roadway from University Drive (U.S. Highway 380) to North Elm Street (U.S. 77).
“That roadway will have an additional side path, which is a 10-foot side path, which will include that ability for folks to walk and bike,” Diviney said. “And then on the west side of the roadway, it will also have a sidewalk that will be between 6 and 8 feet.”
Sidewalks are narrower and typically accommodate foot traffic.
The city also is making improvements to Windsor Drive, the busiest intersection south of the new campus.
“Windsor itself will have some improvements, but mainly to fill in the gap for the area of where it goes from being four-lane to two-lane, and that’s fairly close to the Westgate intersection,” Diviney said. “And then we will be making improvements on Westgate itself to provide sidewalk and a roadway cross-section that will include a wider roadway so that cars can go both north and south.”
The roadway cross-section will connect Westgate Drive to Bronco Way, Diviney said.
“We’ve talked about access issues from the standpoint of wanting to make sure students from the Windsor area have an ability to get to school safely,” she said.
The city made some improvements just before school started. Stop signs at Windsor Drive and Bonnie Brae were made more visible, and crews repainted the crosswalk at the intersection.
“There is existing sidewalk all the way up Bonnie Brae on the east side of the roadway,” Diviney said. “We did go ahead and install a four-way/all-way stop intersection at Bronco Way, Riney Road and Bonnie Brae. Those stop signs are all illuminated.”
The city also added ramps and a connection to the sidewalk on the south side of that intersection, she said. The goal was to give pedestrians a clear path to walk from Windsor Drive to Bonnie Brae and then be able to cross Bonnie Brae to get to the campus.
“I will tell you that we are continuing to collaborate [and] have additional conversations with the ISD about any other temporary improvements that can be made,” Diviney said. “Because, as you know, those projects are either in design or moving to construction phase. The Westgate-Windsor [project] is currently working through the design phase of getting a design consultant on board and moving forward with that design.”
While the Bonnie Brae Phase 6 project is moving to construction, some work will be delayed until the city acquires a final parcel of land needed to proceed.
Residents can give feedback on capital improvement projects using the Engage Denton app, Diviney said, and officials also invite feedback on Discuss Denton, an interactive website where people can find information about city projects and leave comments. Residents have to register to use it.
Zwahr said the school district will continue to work with the city and the community to make campuses accessible.
“As [Denton ISD Superintendent Jamie] Wilson continually reminds us, don’t let perfection stand in the way of progress. We feel good about the progress being made, and while everything may not be perfect, we will continue to partner with the city of Denton to provide accessibility for all of our students and staff,” she said.