TAMPA — When parents in a Citrus Park neighborhood learned their children's school bus stops would be moved to a busy intersection in the fall, they wanted school officials to see for themselves how dangerous it would be.
Early Wednesday, at the parents' invitation, district transportation general manager John Franklin checked it out for himself.
His first impression?
Culverts along both sides of the road leading to the stop at Gunn Highway and Cain Road do pose hazards. The new stop is about a half-mile hike from the nearest subdivision along Cain Road, a two-lane street with no sidewalks and plenty of ditches.
"It's just unacceptable," said Jessie Thorpe, who joined about 15 other parents at the corner of Cain and Gant roads, where buses stop now. "It puts them closer to danger, and that scares me to death."
District officials want to save money and make the bus system more efficient by cutting down on the number of stops, which means up to a 1.5-mile walk for some students.
They hope to make all elementary, middle and high school buses stop at the same spots throughout neighborhoods for much of South Tampa, through the central city to the northwest suburbs. In Hillsborough County, there are about 1,500 bus stop changes on tap.
Experienced bus drivers helped choose the new stops, but that doesn't mean they are all good ones, Franklin said. So far safety inspectors have been to more than 50 sites and "a number of them" have been changed because of safety issues, he said.
An inspector has been assigned to review the Gunn and Cain stop.
"We didn't just put push pins on a map and say, 'That looks like a good bus stop,' " Franklin said. "It's a living, breathing process."
Happy with Franklin's observation, parents nixed their original plan to have him walk the route with a 65-pound backpack — about a third of his body weight, the proportionate load for a student.
Barbara Boler and her Woodmont neighbors suggested alternate stops, which would cut down the total number by eight. They include stops within the subdivision — something several communities are seeing eliminated — because the cluster of communities there have just one outlet.
"Ours is a unique situation," Boler said. "If you agree to come off of Gunn Highway … you have to come into the community and turn around. So why not put the stops along the way?"
A decision will be made within three to five days, Franklin said.
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 269-5312 or email@example.com.