State Street Reconstruction | Madison, WI

The Five E's of a Safe School Zone

Kevin Ruhland, PE | with 0 Comments

The Five E's of a Safe School Zone

Every October parents and children celebrate National Walk to School Day. It is important not only on this day, but every day, to provide children a safe route to school and to encourage daily walking.

The concept behind Safe Routes to School (SRTS) dates back to the 1970s in Denmark.  The success of Denmark’s program to make walking safer and more common again spawned other programs throughout Europe, and eventually the United States. The first United States SRTS program began in 1997 in New York State and quickly caught on throughout the country. In 2005, federal transportation legislation committed nearly $1 billion for the federal SRTS Program. Subsequent SRTS funding programs have benefitted close to 15,000 schools nationwide.
At the core of the program are “Five E’s” – Evaluation, Engineering, Education, Encouragement, and Enforcement.  While federal funding through the SRTS program is limited, there are numerous low cost options that can improve safety for students, teachers, and parents using a variety of modes to get to school each day by supporting the Five E’s. 

The school site itself and its immediate vicinity is the place to start, and it begins with a site assessment. A traffic engineer can perform a visual assessment of how everyone arrives and departs, sometimes based on just one visit to the school.  The engineer will interview the principal and other staff to quickly identify risk factors and improvement opportunities. Staff know the nuances of how the site works and where safety is inadequate.

Once a site assessment is complete, the engineer will work with school staff and administration to develop a safe school zone plan.  The plan must consider bus patterns, teacher parking, parent parking and drop-off areas, bike and pedestrian routes, and crosswalks. Ideally, bus drop-off, parent drop-off and teacher parking are all separate areas.  Conflicts can be different depending on the age of the students. A high school plan, for example, should account for newly licensed drivers, while an elementary school should consider smaller pedestrians and the tendency of parents to walk kids to and from the door.  Improvements can be as simple as new markings or signage, implementing student or volunteer parent patrols, or simply adjusting schedules.

Once a plan is agreed to, Draft a Safe Routes to School map and schedule for parents and students.  Include the information in the parent handbook.  The map should identify a safe, accessible route for bicycle and pedestrian traffic. It should minimize conflicts with vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists. The schedule should identify when students can arrive and how and where parents can access the school and wait for pickup. 

Sponsor and promote events like neighborhood walking, school buses, and classroom competitions that encourage multimodal trips and reduce congestion.  These are especially popular during October.  Get parents and students involved in volunteer efforts to further promote healthy lifestyle choices.

Stick to your plan.  Consider working with local law enforcement or school liaisons to enforce safe drop off and pick up practices.  Parent volunteers are a great option that produces a two-fold result – increased enforcement, and improved knowledge of the rules.  Issue reminders through weekly newsletters or take home packets.  A plan is only as good as the level of enforcement that is applied.

If you’ve witnessed unsafe conditions at your local or community school, consider the above steps to help create a safe and healthy school environment.  MSA’s traffic engineers and planners have helped many school districts find solutions to school safety concerns – no matter what the budget. Contact Kevin Ruhland, PE or Jason Valerius, AICP for more information. 

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