With the first day of CTA cuts in full effect, I headed out to Clemente High School at Western Avenue and Division Street. I wanted to find out if there was any impact on students in the absence of 49 Western Express bus at dismissal. Students are usually heading home around 2:30 p.m. Community advocates say the hours between 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. are the most dangerous time of the day for students.
The Chicago Police were visible presence outside and around the perimeter of the school. Two squad cars were stationed directly in the front of the school. While a paddy wagon and squad cars were on Division street, several yards away from the main intersection.
Inside Clemente, Assistant Principal Antonio Perez was multitasking in a serious way when I went into the school to talk with security about any concerns they would have over today's dismissal. Perez says the cuts present new fears for him. The school had already had a problem with slow CTA service at the beginning at the year. Perez says too many kids waiting for the bus start to get "antsy and have time to do mischievous things."
Between the hours of 2:35 and 2:55 we need to get these kids out of here"¦And on the corner of Western, lot of traffic. Both east bound, west, south and north bound and we were able to correct the situation but now I fear that we'll go back to what we had before.
He says cuts and the reduction in service could put a serious strain on the "culture of calm" Chicago Public Schools' chief Ron Huberman wants to institute in schools. Noelle Gaffney, spokesperson for CTA, said in an email Clemente is serviced by five buses daily after school, and that service will remain in place.
Within several minutes of the 2:30 p.m. dismissal, I noticed an aerial patrol by the CPD. By 2:55 p.m., students waiting to travel north or south bound on Western Avenue were moving out pretty quickly on CTA buses. However, a large pile up of students was growing at the west bound corner of Division Street. A corner, Perez says, where the biggest concerns are because a majority of the students travel westbound through several gang territories. Several young men at the stop were dressed in black and red, making their gang affiliation clear.
Students I spoke with didn't have serious concerns about their safety. They mostly were upset with having to be inconvenienced in the cold weather. A few expressed concerns about being able to use their reduced bus pass within the allotted hours.
Senior Felix Aponte, said this morning's commute was a hassle, 30 minutes more than the usual 7 minutes he was accustomed to. He pointed out the loss of the Western express bus eliminated a certain level of safety for traveling students.
The express bus doesn't stop in certain spots, you know? It just keeps going. But now that if there's no express bus you're going to stop on all those dangerous places.
By 3:10 p.m. three west bound Division Avenue buses, in secession, had finally arrived. Security was still heavy yet dismissal had seemingly gone smooth.