Too Close for Comfort: School Buses Squeak by Dorchester Property

From the porch of her three-decker in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood, Isabelle Flanders watched a fleet of school buses menace her retaining wall.

Beginning around 8 a.m., they streamed down Neponset Avenue and wheeled around the corner onto Claymont Terrace, squeaking by the cement wall on the edge of her property.

"Bless his heart," she said, watching a long yellow bus navigate the turn. "He missed me by 2 inches."

Neighbors say the scene repeats each morning that school is in session. Buses fill the narrow, uphill road that leads to the Neighborhood House Charter School, temporarily bringing traffic to a crawl.

For Flanders, the procession is more than a minor inconvenience. Twice this year, drivers have crashed into her retaining wall, breaking off chunks of concrete and leaving yellow streaks behind.

"Last week, a school bus came and did it again," she said.

After raising her concerns with the school, Flanders contacted NBC10 Boston during the station's Talk to Ten phone-a-thon to ask for help.

"We're the driveway for the school at this point," she said.

During three visits to the neighborhood, NBC10 Boston watched one bus after another struggle to make the turn, sometimes stopping traffic while drivers backed up to correct their angle. Most drove over the curb, which was previously rebuilt and reinforced with a steel plate after being damaged by passing vehicles.

"Three times, it was regular cement, and it got crushed down to gravel," Flanders said.

After living in the neighborhood for some 30 years, Joan Mangan said she can no longer get up and down Claymont Terrace on weekday mornings. She worries about the safety of her family, too. With traffic backed up, ambulances wouldn't be able to reach her property, she said. And she fears drivers will strike her handicapped son, who waits to be picked up near the corner.

Residents are worried conditions will grow worse after the charter school adds capacity for 75 more students through an upcoming expansion project. Flanders and others sent letters and pictures to city officials to oppose the project, to no avail.

Representatives of the school declined to be interviewed on camera about the situation, but in a statement, they said Neighborhood House redesigned its expansion in response to community input. Changes included creating a one-way traffic pattern that allows vehicles to queue up in the school's parking lot. The school also committed to paying for traffic improvements suggested by the Boston Planning and Development Agency and working with the local neighborhood association.

Bus service for the school is coordinated through the Boston Public Schools. A BPS spokesman said city officials are "looking into this issue to try to rectify this situation moving forward."

Flanders believes she's identified one viable solution: establishing a large parking area, called a transfer port, where parents can drop off kids to be loaded onto buses. She believes it would reduce the car drop-offs and the number of nearly empty buses going up the hill.

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