By David Slone
WARSAW – As the number of stop arm violations continues to increase in the county, one particular bus stop is most concerning to Warsaw Community Schools’ Director of Transportation Mark Fick.
On Wednesday, Oct. 5, Fick brought his concerns and requests for a sign and camera near the bus stop in front of Papa John’s on Center Street to the Warsaw Traffic Commission.
“We had 73 stop-arm violations this year and we’re several weeks into school. That’s throughout the county. It’s been from everywhere – from (SR) 14 all the way up to (US) 6. And throughout the city,” Fick stated.
On WCS buses, he said they have seven to eight cameras and a stop-arm camera on each bus on the outside.
Fick explained the process for ticketing stop-arm violators. The driver fills out a form and once Fick verifies it, it’s sent out to the prosecuting attorney. The prosecutor then issues a ticket out to the city, county or town of Winona Lake to be issued to the driver. Fick receives back notification that the citation was issued or the reason why it wasn’t – because they couldn’t get a total identification of the license plate or the make and model of the vehicle.
“At the Papa John’s stop, I’ve had 40-plus vehicles that we’ve caught go through,” Fick said.
He showed a video of a bus, heading west, stopping at the Papa John’s bus stop on the north side of Center Street, with the stop-arm out, while four vehicles heading east don’t stop. On a two-lane or multi-lane road, if a bus stops with the stop-arm out, all vehicles traveling in both directions must stop. Another video he showed depicts three vehicles that didn’t stop – two heading east and one heading west.
“A bus stop sign was posted heading over the hill heading west towards town, right by (Wyndham Gardens). So that was installed. But I feel that we need to add one on the other side,” Fick said.
He’s received emails from people asking why WCS doesn’t just move the stop. Fick said he can legally put a stop there and he can’t get a bus behind Papa John’s where the students reside. As for having the bus pull into the Papa John’s parking lot, Fick said he can’t do that because in the mornings there’s usually semi-trucks unloading and, in the evenings, there’s people going in and out of the parking lot.
“I don’t want kids walking across the parking lot because that’s a safety issue left and right,” he said.
Three children are picked up at the Papa John’s stop at 7-7:10 a.m.; two at 8:20-8:25 a.m.; and then they are dropped off there at 3:40-3:50 p.m. and 4:10-4:15 p.m. The elementary and high school students wait near some mailboxes on Center Street.
“The bus has to stop traffic somehow. So, at one point, because we can not do what they call a rolling stop, when they’re coming over the hill she hits her yellows (lights), which initiate just like a traffic light. But with traffic coming up (east), she has to pop (the stop-arm) at some time or else the traffic will keep going through,” Fick said.
Either drivers aren’t paying attention to the bus and its lights or they don’t understand that they have to stop, he said.
Warsaw Street Superintendent Dustin Dillon said he looked at the Indiana Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and looked at the bus stop site. The only bus stop sign is on the north side of Center Street facing traffic going west. He proposed – and said he was having his sign employee take care of it – a 36-inch by 36-inch sign on the eastbound side of Center Street warning drivers that “All Lanes Stop When School Bus Stops.” The signs are used on the non-divided multi-lane highway.
“I hope that will help with some of the confusion there,” Dillon said, adding that it will probably be up by sometime next week. He said he hopes that it will make drivers aware that even though they’re eastbound and the bus is westbound, they still have to stop when the bus stops.
Warning signs do not require an ordinance by the Warsaw City Council.
Fick then proposed the city install a camera near the bus stop to help catch the violators. He has been filming the stop himself to catch the violators.
There have been instances where police officers have been sitting at the top of the Wagon Wheel hill and then they stop violators. Fick also told the Commission how one driver was issued two citations for not stopping for a stopped bus on two separate occasions at two different locations.
Mayor Joe Thallemer asked if there could be a higher visibility stop-arm available for the Center Street situation.
Fick said those lights on the bus are the best available and he’s upgraded over 20 buses, at over $3,500 each, with high-definition lights.
Warsaw Community Economic and Development Director Jeremy Skinner said, “I think some of it is an educational thing. … Having been through that intersection, with the buses and the stop-arms that come out, I think there’s a lot of people that don’t feel like when they’re in that lane that they’re required to stop. And then when people do know and they stop, everybody else will stop behind them. But I think there’s some people who just don’t realize (they have to stop).”
He said he thinks having the eastbound sign will help, or at least educate those who may not be aware that they have to stop when a bus stops.
Skinner also said that for some people the yellow lights flashing on a school bus are like the yellow lights on a traffic control signal – instead of slowing down they try to hurry up and get past it.
Traffic Administrator Lance Grubbs said that for safety purposes, the bus driver will not open the door until all the traffic is stopped. “But we’ve got to educate people going the other way,” he said, noting that the only time they don’t have to stop is when there’s a barrier of unpaved space, any raised median or physical barrier on a divided highway. In a situation like the Center Street bus stop, Grubbs said all lanes have to stop.
“We probably need to educate the people for that,” he said.
Warsaw Police Department Capt. Joel Beam said that for Warsaw Schools, at all of the bus stops, there’s no divided highway so all traffic must stop when a bus stops.
Thallemer said that while he’s not saying the street camera isn’t a good idea, the Traffic Commission should take it under advisement. “We need to know what our options are,” he said.
Council President Jack Wilhite asked if the basic idea was to catch violators going eastbound on Center Street. Fick said yes.
Beam said that while this is an enforcement issue, officers can’t be out there all the time but are there as often as they can be. He spoke to Police Chief Scott Whitaker who has authorized extra patrols with off-duty officers so hopefully that will help some. The eastbound sign also will help.
The Papa John’s stop isn’t a new one, Fick said, but the stop-arm violations have just “gotten so bad” and this year has been “ridiculous.”
Thallemer said the public is much more aware of stop-arm violations with the unfortunate crash on Oct. 30, 2018, on Ind. 25 in Fulton County that killed three Tippecanoe Valley students and seriously injured a fourth. “That’s probably why we’re seeing more awareness of violations,” he said.
Skinner suggested the city could push out safety videos and information on its social media.