ATLANTA -- Traffic jams aren't just a problem in bustling areas of the nation's cities. Congestion can be found in suburbs and even small towns, and experts say they've found an unlikely culprit -- schools.
Roads surrounding schools can be jammed with parents and teen-age drivers, creating dangers for any child who walks to school, said national traffic experts gathered in Atlanta last week for a summit.
"Schools are a big source of aggravation, fatalities and injuries," said Peter Valk, a traffic engineer from Pasadena, Calif. "It's affecting all the children in our schools, and it's getting worse."
Gone are the days when most children walked to school or rode the bus, Valk said. Many children are now driven by parents or child-care providers, causing a mess around schools that were built to accommodate buses and teacher parking only.
"All that traffic is completely overwhelming these communities," said Marion Waters, Georgia's top traffic operations engineer.
In Cherokee County, a rapidly growing suburb north of Atlanta, only one of 32 schools has sidewalks and neighborhoods close enough even to allow walking, school spokesman Mike McGowan said.
"Walking isn't really an option," he said. "And most of our schools weren't designed to hold the traffic they're getting."
Making a bad situation worse are stricter driving rules in Georgia and other states that prevent teens from carrying other youths.
"It's a real dilemma," Valk said. "These laws have very positive effects on reducing teen fatalities and injuries, but then they encourage every teen to drive alone.
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