The Trouble with Traffic: Rush Hour at Niwot High School

Violet Oliver, Journalist

You’ve been sitting in the parking lot for five minutes now, and the cars are still lined up bumper to bumper with no signal of moving anytime soon. In the span of 10 minutes, 300 cars are expected to file out of the parking lot, plus the endless stream of buses.  This isn’t a high-end concert or sports game, nor is this a one-time occurrence. This is the Niwot High School parking situation. 


Has it always been this bad? Not exactly. The traffic seen in 2021 is the worst in 10 years, a huge jump from 2020 when the building was often limited to half the capacity of students. During pre-pandemic times, however, the traffic was still unlike present numbers. This is particularly unusual given that Niwot’s student population actually experienced a slight decrease from 2019 to 2021. Why the sudden increase in traffic? 


While it is impossible to identify a single cause of blame for Niwot’s traffic increase, the likely culprit is COVID. Due to the infectious nature of the virus, public transportation isn’t always an option for those wishing to remain extra cautious, resulting in more students taking cars instead of buses to school. For many families, driving one or more cars to school has thus become habitual, giving little room for alternatives. 


Unfortunately, traffic jams aren’t the worst of problems for this shift in transportation. Cars release 1.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, and each gallon of gasoline burned contributes 20 pounds of CO2 into the air. This is a major contributor to climate change, indirectly fueling wildfires, hurricanes, glacial melting, and other extreme weather events associated with an increase in global temperatures. The small inconvenience from traffic jams has a large-scale impact down the road.


Luckily, all hope is not lost for the planet or arriving home by 3:00. There are numerous ways that parking lot time can be minimized, that can also conserve gas in the process. Walking or biking are excellent choices if home isn’t too far away and it’s nice outside. By utilizing sidewalks and trails, the wait is skipped, and as an added bonus it’s free of charge! Walking or biking also contribute to the 1 hour recommended exercise count, and have shown to provide excellent mental health benefits as well. Live too far away? St. Vrain offers an extensive bus route for the Niwot HS district area, with some options even available for open enrolled students. Nervous about COVID? Carpooling with trusted friends means one less car on the road. While unlikely to decrease carbon footprint, parking in the lower lot or requesting for parents to park in the nearby neighborhoods can also promise earlier departure times. Another benefit of committing to one of these alternatives? Not only do these methods ensure faster departure on an individual scale, they can ease the traffic congestion (and temperament) for the entire school as well.