Bicycle Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection System
A variety of roadway improvements and other strategies may be used to enhance the safe mobility of children in school zones. The countermeasures pertinent to children walking to school also generally apply to children bicycling to school. It should also be noted that improvements to walking and biking routes usually benefit other groups that walk and bike for transportation such as seniors, adults without cars, etc.
Sidewalks or separated walkways and paths contribute to an inviting network for students to travel to school on foot or by bike. For roads that experience relatively high traffic volumes, landscaped buffers can help to further separate students from vehicular traffic. Children can also be taught safe riding skills that will enable them to ride on low-volume neighborhood streets. Evaluating traffic speeds and volumes along school routes is important. In some cases strategies that calm traffic (e.g., speed humps, raised crosswalks, speed feedback signs, etc.) can make roads more comfortable for students to use. Signs and pavement marking treatments can influence motor vehicle speeds in and around schools. Examples include the school advance warning sign, school speed zone and flashing speed zone signs, flashing yellow warning signals, and in-street YIELD TO PEDS signs (placed mid-crosswalk).
Other helpful measures include parking prohibitions near intersections and crosswalks in school zones. Parked cars decrease visibility for both pedestrians and motorists. Removing them from areas where students would likely cross or come into conflict with vehicles can improve safety for all users.
Marked crosswalks can help guide children to the best places to cross the street. Crosswalks should be high visibility (e.g., ladder or zebra pattern). Sometimes these crosswalks have additional school crossing signs mounted at the side of the street, overhead and/or in-street. Warning signals (e.g., rapid flashing beacons) or traffic signals (where warranted) may also be used to improve crossing conditions.
Traffic enforcement in school zones may complement infrastructure improvements and is especially helpful in situations where driver behavior, such as speeding or not yielding to children in crosswalks, is a concern. Sometimes localities double the fines for speeding in school zones. School zone speed enforcement cameras that automatically capture an image of a speeding motorists license plate have been effectively deployed in some cities. Similar to red light cameras, violators of school speed zones are issued citations via mail. In Seattle, Washington, such cameras have resulted in improved compliance with school speed zones and revenue generated from citations has been directed to making additional school zone safety improvements and funding of walk/bike encouragement programs and road safety education.
Pedestrian and bicycle safety infrastructure is a key component for Safe Routes to School (SRTS), but these treatments need a public education component to be successful. School administrators and parent-teacher organizations need to educate students and parents about school safety and access to and from school. Students and parents need to be clear on the rules of the road. Likewise, parents and other community members need to be reminded that young students will likely be walking and biking around the school zone. Tips on how to drive safely around young pedestrians can be helpful. Many communities and schools are using SRTS Programs to work toward making walking and bicycling safe and appealing ways for children to get to school. The FHWA and the National Center for Safe Routes to School designed a one-day training, known as the Safe Routes to School National Course, to help communities and states create sound programs that are based on community conditions, best practices and responsible use of resources. The course is supported through a partnership of funding from FHWA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Environmental Protection Agency. (See http://www.saferoutes.org for more information).
The use of well-trained adult crossing guards has been found to be one of the most effective measures to assist children, whether bicyclists or walkers, in crossing streets safely. Adult crossing guards require training and monitoring and should be equipped with a bright and reflective safety vest and a STOP paddle. Florida has a state-level crossing guard program. The Florida School Crossing Guard Training Guidelines, produced by the Florida DOT and administered by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, are available here.
One of the biggest safety hazards around schools is parents or caretakers dropping off and picking up their children. There are two immediate solutions: 1) a clearly marked area where parents are permitted to drop off and pick up their children, and 2) drop-off/pick-up regulations must be provided to parents on the first day of school. Separating motorists from student pedestrians and bicyclists is the best practice. However, if that is not possible, identifying ways to reduce the potential conflicts, or places where students would be crossing in front of a motorist (e.g., family vehicle, bus, etc.) on the school campus is needed. This can be done with a separated sidewalk or path around the perimeter that leads to the school entrance. Parent drop-off zones should also be separated from bus drop-off zones, but where this is not possible, restricting the times parents are allowed to enter the school driveway is one solution. If parents can be trained to do it right at the start of the school year, they are likely to continue good behavior throughout the year.
For a longer-term solution, it is preferable to create an environment where children can walk or bicycle safely to school. One concept that has been successful in some communities is the concept of a "bike train," where one or more adults or older siblings accompanies children to school, starting at one location and picking children up along the way just like a school bus would do. Soon, a fairly sizeable group of children are biking in a regular formation, under the supervision of responsible adults, who are mindful of street crossings. Parents take turns accompanying the "bike train" in ways that fit their schedules.
Improvements to school zones provide enhanced safety around schools to encourage students to walk or bike to school.
While some engineering treatments cost money, most of the other strategies can be accomplished for little or no money.
Authors and Acknowledgements