Walking Safely to School Bus Stops
Transportation Engineer from New York
Children walking safety to school bus stops must be included as a matter of course in the planning, design and operation of roadways. Some elements of roadway design pertain specifically to children safety include shoulders, walkways (including sidewalks) and crosswalks. Roadway width, number of lanes, traffic speed, and traffic volumes all impact the overall ability of children to walk along a roadway. Roadway width affects the time needed to crossover, whereas an operational parameter like traffic directions affects the number of potential conflicts between motorists and the crossing children.
A variety of improvements can be used to enhance the safety and mobility of children walking to or from school bus stops. Separated walkways and paths are essential for a safe trip from home to the bus stop while traveling on foot. Walkways need to be kept clear of obstructions and should be promptly repaired when damaged. Both the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) recommend a minimum width of 5 feet for a walkway, which allows two people to pass comfortably or to walk side-by-side. Walkways should be continuous along both sides of a roadway and should be fully accessible.
Where walkways are not provided children are required to move along on the roadway shoulder, only on the left side of the roadway or its shoulder facing traffic, which may approach from the opposite direction and upon meeting an oncoming vehicle shall move clear of the roadway. …State Traffic Law
Good quality and placement of lighting can enhance an environment as well as increase student comfort and safety. Children often assume that motorists can see them at night; they are deceived by their own ability to see the oncoming headlights. Without sufficient overhead lighting, motorists may not be able to see students in time to stop. Nighttime crossing areas should be supplemented with brighter or additional lighting. This includes lighting crosswalk area and approaches to the crosswalk.
The single greatest hazard for school children occurs when crossing roadways; young children are most vulnerable, as they have trouble judging traffic and finding an acceptable gap to crossover. Ensuring that children can cross safely and conveniently to access school bus stops is essential. Children who are traveling by school bus may need to crossover the roadway to access a destination after getting off at a bus stop. Children need to be able to cross roadways at intersections and mid-block locations, at controlled (signals, stop signs, etc.) and uncontrolled locations, on collector roadways and on minor roadways. Getting across the roadway can be one of the primary barriers to accessibility, and every accommodation should be made to make crossings work effectively for children.
Children’s concepts of safety are poorly formulated and their knowledge of safe roadway conditions is poor. Their difficulties include small stature, which makes it almost impossible to evaluate the traffic situation correctly and to see the drivers. They also have difficulty distributing their attention, are easily distracted in hazardous traffic situations, have difficulty correcting perceiving the direction of sound and the speed of the vehicle.
Traffic safety around school bus stops is a paramount concern to parents, school officials, and communities. School officials need to review bus stop locations so that children do not have to face unnecessary challenges on their way to and from the bus stop.
Schools should develop a walking plan for each bus stop and work with local transportation and law enforcement agencies to identify and correct traffic problem and roadway designs while developing these plans. These plans can help to identify where traffic control (signs, traffic signals, crosswalks, adult guards, etc.) should be placed around the bus stop. Marked crosswalks can help guide children to the best routes to the bus stop.
Police enforcement may be needed in situations where drivers are speeding or not yielding to children in crosswalks. Radar speed boards and other innovative enforcement programs, such as photo speed or red-light camera may also be employed at some roadway crossings.
Other helpful measures include increased child supervision at crossings; and the use of signs and pavement markings, such as advance warning sign and speed limit signs with flashers on a timer. School administrators, principals, parent-teacher organizations, local government and law enforcement need to educate students and parents about school safety and access to and from school bus stops. Education, enforcement, and well-designed roads must all be in place to encourage motorists to drive appropriately. Appropriate traffic control devices at crossings can be very helpful in controlling vehicle speeds.
Education is a powerful tool for changing behavior and improving safety skills. Children, parents, educators and motorists alike can benefit from educational tools and messages that teach the rules, rights, and responsibilities of travel.
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