We Must Stop the Slaughter on School Streets

Countries in the European Union and Scandinavia operate something called the Safe Systems approach. This leads to fatality rates on roads that are between a third and a half that suffered on U.S. roads.

This has prompted calls for U.S. cities to adopt a similar strategy, limiting speeds on our urban streets. Yet for many city transportation agencies, this is difficult because speed limits are controlled at the state level.

Could urban planning hold the key to making every city street a safe street, especially around schools?

School traffic planning basics

Schools are the centers of communities. It’s where students learn, parents go to drop off their children, and kids play on the playground. Traffic safety near schools is a major concern for parents and school officials.

School traffic planning is the process of coordinating street design, school schedules, and traffic safety practices to create safe streets for kids. This process should take into account how students are traveling to school ─ by foot, bike, bus, car.

The key components of safe streets for children are safe intersections and sidewalks that are well-lit and free of hazards. 

However, when designing a street plan, it is important to keep in mind that students are unpredictable. This means that adding crosswalks can not only help them get to school but also be an added safety measure for other pedestrians on the street. The benefits of adding crosswalks include decreased pedestrian fatalities and increased pedestrian visibility.

The Safe Streets for All Project – What policies should it follow?

The Biden Administration has set aside $20 billion for road safety. As part of this, it has proposed a Safe Streets for All project. 

When implementing this, we could learn from the approach taken by other countries, and develop our policy along five broad lines:

  1. Tie federal funding for road infrastructure to safety standards and target outcomes

  2. Revise federal road safety guidelines to align with evidence

  3. Provide technical resources for road safety to adapt to local conditions

  4. Embrace a place-based approach and prioritize high-casualty locations, such as schools

  5. Codify the specific roles for federal, state, and local governments to improve traffic safety

What design elements make a street safer?

Designing a street is difficult. Designers need to think about many factors that will affect the safety of the pedestrians who use it. Streets not only need to be functional, but they also need to be safe.

Urban designers must find ways to optimize visibility, provide wayfinding cues for pedestrians, keep traffic flowing smoothly, and create an attractive space for people traveling on foot. Infrastructure elements that can be included to make streets safer around schools include:

  • Crosswalks ─ make them direct and single-stage

  • Ensuring sufficient time at signalized crosswalks for people to cross

  • Ensuring that crosswalks take the route that pedestrians take

  • Using bollards and planters to limit vehicle speeds

  • Raising curbs to prevent right turns

  • Narrowing streets to encourage reduced speeds

  • Incorporating adequate bikeways into urban designs

  • Pedestrianizing areas around schools

Planning and designing safer streets in the school zone

Steps for making our streets safer around schools must be prioritized at the initial urban planning level. A safer street design plan for a school should include the use of the following:

  • A street safety audit and review by a traffic safety specialist

  • Parental, community, and staff involvement in the process of designing and implementing the safer street concept for their school

  • Use of low-speed zones, roundabouts, pedestrian islands, bollards, stop signs, crosswalks, and bikeways, etc. to create safe areas in front of schools

  • Shared-use paths where possible to connect schools with other destinations in surrounding communities

It’s time to build the path toward safe school streets

Each year in the United States, around 800 kids are killed in school zones during school commute hours. A further 152,000 are injured. As urban planners and designers, surely it is incumbent upon us to eliminate such terrifying statistics. 

We must work to ensure that the Safe Streets for All project delivers on its promise. We must deliver safe streets around our schools. It is time we all worked together to make our streets safer for all who use them.

At ACB Consulting, we are committed to helping improve the communities in which we live, work, play, and learn – including how they are conceived, designed, and created. To learn more, contact ACB Consulting.

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