Opinion

It's a driving mess doozy

To school district officials and, no doubt, many Bainbridge High School students, driving a car is an important part of making the transition from childhood to adulthood.

And while the officials might prefer that students ride the bus, they can’t require them to do so, the district says.

So the kids drive to school – lots of them. And while the 300 spaces on campus for 1,100 students represents an unusually high ratio of parking per pupil, it’s still not enough – student vehicles this year spilled over and, neighbors say, took over some of the streets closest to campus.

Not surprisingly, the neighbors have taken umbrage. True, some of the objections are a bit Pecksniffian – adults alarmed at kids congregating, flirting, smoking and generally acting the way that most of us (including the neighbors) probably did at that age. We’ve heard one student’s passionate and eloquent arguments on behalf of her peers – good young men and women, she says, trying to get an education. If they must drive to school, accommodate them.

But many of the neighbors’ complaints are valid, involving safety, access to mailboxes, and damage to road shoulders – and those are issues that have to do only with the presence of cars, not the age of the drivers.

As reported elsewhere today, the issue got a full airing at a meeting of a city and school officials, who discussed a proposal to simply ban parking on the affected streets, including upper Grow Avenue.

To some, the proposal has an anti-youth undercurrent. When there’s not enough room to park downtown or at the ferry terminal, the city considers adding parking, they say. But when kids need more parking, they’re turned away.

The obvious solution – although we concede that few youths will want to hear it – is to put the kids back on the school bus. It’s safe, convenient, environmentally friendly, and the school district receives a subsidy for transportation based on how many kids are on board. If high school students perceive the big yellow school bus as too juvenile, why not explore a new partership with Kitsap Transit? Surely some routes can be changed to pass in closer proximity to the campus, and these days, a pass is cheaper than gassing up the Beemer.

But we suspect the real problem has less to do with students than with their parents. As one school board member acknowledged, many folks find it a lot more convenient to buy the kid a car at 16 than to continue toting him or her around.

We think council member Deborah Vann is on the right track. She suggests that if there aren’t enought on-campus parking places to go around, the school should stop selling passes to sophomores – passes that create the legitimate expectation that the holder will find a space waiting.

The district is correct that it can’t stop kids from driving to school once they’re licensed. (It certainly hasn’t been able to stop an equally wasteful daily ritual – the hordes of parents carting their kids to school, clogging nearby roads before and after classes.) But if a student is faced with a really long walk from the parking places or an expensive parking ticket, bus-riding may become more attractive.

We doubt that any resolution is going to leave all parties happy. But should neighbors prevail for parking restrictions near the campus, it may provide students with another right of passage to adulthood – the lesson that we don’t always get what we want.

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