Monday, January 11, 2010

Opinion: Allentown NJ - Hotbed of dangerous traffic, bullying, sexual harassment and criminal activities?!?!

Believable it or not, we are talking about courtesy busing to school.

Last week there was a good article in a locally distributed weekly paper called the Examiner, which covers the bucolic rural towns in far western Monmouth County. The article discussed what Upper Freehold Township is trying to do to eliminate unnecessary courtesy busing in and around the village of Allentown. In the past ten years or so a number of sprawling developments have popped up around the idyllic farm town but within very close proximity to the local schools that are with easy walking distance of Main St. Accordingly the town is looking to install sidewalks and paths to better connect these developments and the town so that local children can walk and ride bikes to school.

While these sidewalks and paths should have been built when the developments went in, it is highly commendable that the local township with the board of ed is now trying to do the right thing. By spending money upfront on sidewalk infrastructure they can avoid continuously dumping it into endless payments for unnecessary busing particularly when the kids live so close to their schools.

In 2010, Upper Freehold predicts it will spend close to $100,000 on courtesy busing. That amount could build quite a bit of sidewalk.

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Allentown, NJ. Rockwellian, small-town America or hotbed of crime, dangerous traffic and sexual lewdness?

However, if you read further down towards the last two paragraphs of the article you will see that some parents have already objected to the possibility of eliminating of courtesy busing. In their objection they cite that their children will be forced "to walk through dangerous intersections in downtown Allentown" and "that sidewalks would be dangerous because they are potential places for bullying, sexual harassment and criminal activities."

When I read that statement my jaw hit the floor. I'm very familiar with Allentown. It is one of the most peaceful and quaint small towns in all of New Jersey. One couldn't hope to live in a more perfect rural setting. The historic Main St is still the hub of local commerce and there isn't a strip mall within miles. Sidewalks are plentiful within the old town and local police make sure that NO ONE exceeds the posted 25mph downtown. I couldn't imagine a more perfect and safe place in New Jersey to raise a child and let them roam around and live an active childhood like that I enjoyed when I was a kid.

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Shaded, historic Main St, Allentown, NJ.

I know that the parents out there will say that since I'm not a parent I can't begin to understand and that things are "different" since when I was a kid (yeah, back in the 1970's every parent exposed their kids to second hand smoke, people drove drunk without penalty and lead was in the gasoline, so life has got to be more dangerous today - hint, sarcasm). However, I beg to differ. I believe that the fear that parents have for their childrens' safety is far beyond rational and has become all-out, unhealthy paranoia and it takes a childless person to point that out.


cartoongoddess said...

AndyB, life today is pretty much as it was in the 70s, except that TV and news media are more dangerous. Driver distractions are more abundant. That's putting it kindly.

We have courtesy busing in my town (which is not Allentown). My 7 yr old currently takes the bus. Her school is just over a mile from our house. It's a 25 minute walk, even for a kid who is used to walking distances and travels at a brisk pace. The school she attended prior was about a half mile from us. We walked. Every day. We were one of the few families who did. Steady stream of minivans and SUVs flew past us daily.

There has been talk about eliminating busing here (cost factor). If that's the case, this is how we would get to school:

Riding is faster than walking. By bike, it takes 10-15 minutes depending on traffic and lights.

I'm sure, if we rode, we'd be the only ones. You'd have to change the mindsets of millions of parents to convince them that it's a good idea for their kids (and themselves if they're concerned about the kids going alone) to walk or bike to school. They just don't get it.

clever-title said...

Parents watch TV, see stories of abductions, and think there's a child molester on every corner. Kids get stuffed into SUVs, and face the real risks of obesity and no knowledge of what it's like to live in a community.
It's (sadly) human nature to obsess about trivial but spectaular risks, and ignore mundane but serious risks.

Tom Reingold said...

There's a cost to fear, too. Parents tell their kids it's dangerous out there. They learn to fear and avoid life. They miss out on fun and adventure. The only thing that's truly more dangerous now than before is traffic. Parents driving kids can take some blame for that. Abductions are fewer now than they were before, though reporting on it is up.

I live in Maplewood, NJ, and very few kids are entitled to school buses. Many kids walk over a mile, and some walk over two miles to school. I see this as an enhancement of life, not a detraction.

Anonymous said...

For the next two years, Allentown will be a nightmare for children walking. You see, it will take 24 months to rebuild the bridge and dam which begins in about a month. Although there will be a temporary bridge with a walkway, the bridge will be narrowed slowed to a crawl and wall to wall traffic will ensue.

For the last ten years, because of the condition of the bridge, large trucks have been not allowed on Main Street. After the bridge is repaired, 18 wheelers will return! Roads are very narrow on Church and High Streets..they are...after all...the remnants of colonial roads. Trucks don't fit but we are unable to ban them.

Anonymous said...

For several years, Allentown has had problems with kids from other towns attending the schools here being left in town until their parents get off work causing teenage drug sales in our park which has largely been stopped but on occasion causes problems downtown.

Allentown is indeed beautiful and wholesome now but if you saw the zoning on neighboring properties in surrounding towns, you would be appalled at what the future could bring...highway development...high rise centers....all of Upper Freeholds low income housing, etc. It seems everybody in New Jersey loves Allentown except the surrounding communities.

Anonymous said...

In places, it is impossible to put sidewalks in Allentown. The roads have been widened by Monmouth County to accomodate the trucks so that colonial homes are sometimes situated only two feet from the road with no room to connect sidewalks from the developments to town.

Several commissions in Allentown wanted to put paths behind the church along the lake for walking but it was found that the graves are too close to the cliff and that it would require a wall for safety that couldn't be built due to the destabilized nature of the cliff along the pond.

Allentown continues to apply for grants to fix the seriously deteriorated sidewalks downtown but never gets the grants.

Things are complicated here.

Anonymous said...

Robbinsville, Allentown's neighbor, has zoned and partially built a major industrial park less than one mile from Allentown. This is basically a giant truckstop with huge trucks coming off the Turnpike which is in the process of being widened substantially. Both intersections in Allentown are classified "failing" due to the volume of cars...and studies show that lights wouldn't improve the problem due to road configuration, narroness of roads, etc.

I am told that one intersection near the school is the worst in the County.

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea to help reduce the cost of putting in with the local Watershed Association ( has been pursuing funding with both Allentown and Upper Freehold to build the Walford to Washington (now Robbinsville) Trail. This Trail and its planned layout could be the logical connector.

Anonymous said...

The kids from Heritage Green and Winchester Estates can see their school from their homes. It's ridiculous that taxpayers who are already over-taxed have to pay for this.
Dozens of parents sit in their running cars for 15-20minutes waiting for the bus. Walking your kids to school will help them & you.
Also, UFRSD campus is not ADA compliant without the sidewalks through the ball fields. Disabled residents AND students can not attend games.

Anonymous said...

I think it's quite ridiculous that there are 2 developments whose property lines border the school's that get courtesy busing. Sidewalks do need to be installed to enable the children to walk safely to school.

Many (although not all) of these families do wait in their vehicles at the entrance to their respective developments for their buses. Would it be that much of a hardship on them to drive the extra few feet to drop their children off at school?

This sidewalk "controversy" comes at a time that our district will probably be screwed by the state for being fiscally responsible in preparation for the opening of the new middle school.

IMHO, it would cost the district ALOT less $ for them to hire 2 PT aides to ensure the safety of the elementary school students walking these "dangerous" routes than the $100k needed to continue the courtesy busing. This is assuming these parents don't end up driving their kids that extra few feet to the school!

Anonymous said...

I live in Allentown, and my children went to Catholic School not too long ago. We had to pay for busing and the bus picked up the children in front of borough hall. Most of the children walked to the bus stop a lot of them from the south side of town. They had to cross the bridge and walk where there was no sidewalk. I know it was my decision to send them to private school but there was never any of the problems discussed in some of the other blogs. Sidewalks from Heritage Green & Winchester Estates do not have to cross the bridge. One gets the idea that the parents have gotten used to the convenience of busing and do not want to give it up. This has nothing to do with safety.It does however have to do with what the whole community pays for the convenience of a few. I vote put in the sidewalks at least from Heritage Green and Winchester Estates.

Anonymous said...

I'm a resident of Winchester Estates and understand if they were to connect our development with the school they would go through part of Byron Johnson Park and/or the high school ball fields. If that is correct I hope they consider installing lights for safety. In the fall it is dark when most high school kids would be walking to school and again at 4:30PM. Most existing sidewalks in town are lit by street lights and provide a safe walkway for children using them. Unlike Heritage Green and other developments in Upper Freehold, Winchester Estates was designed without any road lights. Does anybody have any insight around this plan? Thanks

Anonymous said...

I agree, busing kids from Winchester Estates and Heritage Green seems ridiculous. These developments border the school property. However you can not expect to save $100k from just these developments alone. That figure is for ALL courtesy busing costs.

Even if these developments accounted for 50% of the busing cost it could be tough to justify the alternative expense of building and maintaining sidewalks and hiring two crossing guards.

so I'm basically saying, I hope the school board does a thorough analysis of the actual net savings before we do anything.

Anonymous said...

Lower income Allentown taxpayers continue to subsidize busing for UF students living more than 2 miles from schools on Mcmansions and mega-horse farms, but get no busing for their children who will switch to the new middle school to which no one can walk safely (no sidewalks, crossing guards, lights). Elected officials and the school district need to get together and come up with a fair solution.

Anonymous said...

My Grandson, who lives 1.999 miles from the school is just 8 years old. How does our community feel it will be safe for him to walk that distance on Rt 539 during such a busy time of the day?

Anonymous said...

Courtesy busing is just silly. Put the sidewalks in and let the kids walk to school!!

If the parents object to that, let them move out of this town! Living in Upper Freehold means a few inconveniences... if you didn't get that when you moved here, move out! You can't have both- a beautiful rural place without having to walk or drive to places. If you want convenience, move to a city! Sorry but this is just so frustrating!

Tom Reingold said...

I don't think telling people to move out helps anyone.

Of course you have to walk or drive. The problem here, if I understand the story correctly, is that the town hasn't made it safe to walk.

To assume that everyone can drive all the time is neither kind nor is it accurate. It was never possible for everyone to drive.