Putting It Into Practice: 15 MPH School Zones


Arizona has been using 15 mph School Zone crossings for elementary and middle schools since 1950 when the Legislature passed State law ARS 28-797 allowing for the uniform application of these special reduced speed zones. School zones are operated by the schools and are established with roll-out 15 MPH speed limit signs and portable STOP WHEN CHILDREN IN CROSSWALK signs during student arrival and dismissal times. Their use is limited to crossings where there is not the benefit of a traffic signal or STOP sign at the crossing. The law requires an engineering study before establishing the 15 mph school zone and the school must sign a written agreement with the local traffic authority to operate the zone. These special crosswalks are marked with yellow lines and the portable signs are typically allowed in the street 45 minutes prior to the start of school and 30 minutes after school dismissal. The 15 mph school zone portable signs are typically removed from the street during non-crossing times, but are allowed in the street during the entire school day if the crossing is abutting the school grounds. The law also strictly prohibits passing on the approach to the crossing, and the 15 mph speed limit extends from the advance 15 MPH SCHOOL IN SESSION portable sign through the crosswalk. Fifteen MPH School Zones cannot be used within 600 feet of a traffic signal, STOP sign or another 15 mph School Zone crossing.

Putting It Into Practice: Bicycle Parking

London, England

In London, England the Mayor launched a new program to fund, procure and install modern cycle parking at schools and colleges. Started in June 2003 as part of the Mayor’s Children Strategy, the program aimed to install 5000 cycle parking spaces by the end of 2005 and raise school cycling levels from 1 percent.

The Transport for London’s Cycling Centre of Excellence (CCE) was appointed to manage the program. Invitation to participate went to almost 3000 schools and colleges and 250 applications were completed and returned. The CCE and two contractors appointed to supply and install the equipment began visiting schools to determine the appropriate facilities and next steps given the space constraints and borough land-use planning requirements.

By June 2005, 5000 cycle parking spaces had been installed at about 200 schools and colleges for approximately £1.5M ($2.6 million). Facilities installed included covered and uncovered bicycle racks, lockable bicycle shelters with racks, individual bicycle lockers and helmet lockers. Cycle parking capacity typically ranged from 10 spaces at primary schools to 120 spaces at secondary schools.

Research at participating schools demonstrated that the new parking facilities encouraged existing cyclists and created new cyclists.

  • 61 percent of students who already cycle to school reported cycling more often and 56 percent use their bicycles more to travel to other places.
  • 22 percent of school cyclists reported they traveled to school by car pre-installation.
  • 47 percent of leisure cyclists reported that they were likely to bicycle to school in the future.

The facilities also spurred support for cycling among teachers, schools and local authorities. Participating schools have launched new initiatives such as cycling trains and after school cyclist trainings. Schools have also been encouraged to provide further facilities like staff showers and student lockers. The success of the program has helped CCE gain the trust and confidence of local authorities and the Greater London Authority, who have since provided funds to continue the program. Funding has been secured for 2005/06 to complete all original applications and to provide facilities for schools with school travel plans looking to develop cycling.

Putting It Into Practice: Connector Paths

Chapel Hill, NC

The path between the two houses in the cul-de-sac creates a connection to the local school.

One of the main barriers to walking and bicycling to school is distance. A child who lives a short distance from a school may need to be bused or driven if there is not a reasonable connection between home and the school. Disconnected subdivision street layout often makes distances between origins and destinations much longer than the straight line distance between the two locations. By not connecting to another street, cul-de-sacs contribute to the problem.

As part of a new subdivision in Chapel Hill, NC a connector path was built to connect Mary Scroggs Elementary School to a cul-de-sac of an adjacent residential street. Sixty percent of students at Mary Scroggs Elementary School now walk or bicycle to school.

Putting It Into Practice: Developing a Safe Routes to School Walking Route Map

Roadrunner Elementary School, Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix, like many other communities, is working with school officials and parents to develop walking route maps to provide young students guidance on the safest routes to walk  to and from school. The program not only makes the school trip safer by identifying the safest routes, but it also involves a comprehensive review of the walking routes by school officials and parents to identify problem areas. The walking route plan helps to identify where improvements are needed, and where to place crosswalks, STOP signs and adult school crossing guards. The ultimate purpose of the walking routes is to encourage more children to walk to school and discourage parents from driving their children to school.

The school provides the walking attendance boundary map and parent volunteers to work on reviewing and developing the walking routes. The City provides aerial photographs, quarter-section maps, and guidelines for parents and school officials on how to conduct their reviews. The process requires parent volunteers or school officials to review the entire walking route and to identify the most desirable walking route to serve each household within the walking attendance boundary. This exercise may also involve a revision of the walking attendance boundary if safe routes can be identified or created to serve more students.

Once the walking route maps are completed, traffic officials review the areas of concern and work with school officials to ensure the right number and placement of adult school crossing guards. The City provides final versions of the maps and maintains the computer files for the walking routes. It is the responsibility of the school officials to distribute the walking route plans to the parents at the start of the school year and when new students are enrolled at the school. School walking route maps are reviewed annually to identify if there are any changes to or within the school walking attendance boundary. PEDSAFE (2013)

Putting It Into Practice: Greenway Pedestrian Bridge

Phoenix, AZ

The Greenway Pedestrian Bridge spans the Greenway Parkway creating a safe way to cross a busy 7-lane road.

The Greenway Pedestrian Bridge was built over the Greenway Parkway in Phoenix, AZ to allow students to walk or bicycle to Aire Libre Elementary School.

Prior to the Parkway’s construction, students had direct access to the school through an open field. After the Parkway was built, students had no safe way to cross the busy seven-lane arterial. Now over 60 students use the bridge to get to and from Aire Libre every school day. Because the Parkway was built roughly at the same time that the bridge was installed, no before or after accident or speed comparison data are available. However, safety appears to have been significantly improved. A crossing guard is posted by the school to make sure the students use the bridge and do not dart across the street.

Ironically, this bridge was used at Mercury Mine Elementary School to cross a very busy, high-speed arterial street. When that busy arterial street was widened and converted into a freeway, the pedestrian bridge span was too short. The bridge was moved to Greenway Parkway to serve Aire Libre Elementary School students and only ramps needed to be built at the new location.

For details of this project, visit PedSafe "Greenway Pedestrian Bridge" Phoenix, AZ, case study.

Putting It Into Practice: HAWK Signals

Tucson, AZ

To increase pedestrian safety at school crossing locations, the City of Tucson developed a traffic signal called the HAWK (High-intensity Activated crossWalk). The HAWK uses traditional traffic and pedestrian signal heads but in a different configuration. It includes a sign instructing motorists to “stop on red” and a “pedestrians” overhead sign. There is also a sign informing pedestrians on how to cross the street safely.

When not activated, the signal is blanked out. The HAWK signal is activated by a pedestrian push button. The overhead signal begins flashing yellow and then solid yellow, advising drivers to prepare to stop. The signal then displays a solid red and shows the pedestrian a “Walk” indication. Finally, an alternating flashing red signal indicates that motorists may proceed when safe, after coming to a full stop. The pedestrian is shown a flashing “Don’t Walk” with a countdown indicating the time left to cross.

In 2004, the Tucson Department of Transportation installed five HAWK signals around the city and there are currently over 40 in operation. The special signals were placed at intersections where there were frequent crashes with pedestrians including streets near a university, a shopping center and a high school. The HAWK pedestrian crossing signals have greatly improved pedestrian safety in Tucson. The device substantially improves motorist stopping behavior, as compared to the use of flashing overhead school signs. The technology has been so successful that the Federal Highway Administration visited Tucson to look at the crossings and see how well they might work in other cities. Tucson has asked the FHWA for approval to include the HAWK for optional in the MUTCD.

For more information, visit the Tucson DOT website.

Putting It Into Practice: Multi-Use Path

Mill Valley, CA

Separated multi-use pathways can be an effective option for creating safer routes for children to walk and bicycle to school. In Mill Valley, CA an asphalt multi-use path with wheelchair accessibility connects Edna Maguire School to the county’s North-South Bikeway/Bay Trail. The path was funded by the CalTrans SRTS Capital Grant program. For more details about this project, refer to the Mill Valley Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan Update.

Putting It Into Practice: Elementary School Crosswalk Enhancement Program

Bellevue, WA

Speeding on residential streets is cited as one of the top concerns of local citizens. Additionally, vehicles were parking too close to the crossing areas at schools, reducing visibility and increasing the potential for crashes involving young pedestrians. The City partnered with citizens and community groups to incorporate school pedestrian measures into a two-year Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program. The first year focused on driver behavior through education and enforcement programs, and in the second year infrastructure improvements were used if necessary. For this project, five different school locations were selected for facilities improvements on the basis of the high number of students living within walking distance.

Elementary School Crosswalk Enhancement Program

Putting It Into Practice: School Walking Routes Pilot Project

Ontario, Canada

Research suggests that if there were “safe routes” for children to walk or cycle to school more families would choose this form of transportation. The School Walking Routes pilot project of Green Communities Active & Safe Routes to School set out to test this.

The School Walking Routes pilot project was implemented in four steps including:

  1. Mapping: students in participating schools were asked to draw their routes to school on maps of their school’s catchment area. Maps were sorted by grade and by street and one master map was created of the most popular routes.
  2. Observing: municipal transportation staff collected baseline data for each mapped route at each school site.
  3. Analyzing traffic: Municipal transportation staff coordinated traffic counts at each of the four schools before, during and after the pilot project.
  4. Surveying: parents, children and community members were surveyed at the start and end of the project.

Families who chose to participate in walking school buses were encouraged to walk along the designated routes, which were selected by local municipal and police staff as the best route from the perspective of traffic safety and pedestrian controls. School Route signs placed along the route provide the following benefits:

  • Notification to drivers that they were on a designated walking route to a school and to use extra caution.
  • Encouragement for parents to walk their children along the designated walking route, thus creating more eyes on the street. This is critical in the establishment and sustainability of Walking School Buses.
  • Encouragement for pedestrians and cyclists to cross only at the designated intersections.
  • Promote the culture of child safety in general.

Project organizers found that collecting data through observations is labor-intensive and not cost-effective and there are many factors contributing to transportation choice of families from one day to the next. Also, signs coupled with other Active and Safe Routes to School initiatives can change behavior of drivers and encourage more people to walk their children to school.

Phase 1 of the School Walking Routes pilot project was implemented in Toronto in April 2002. During 2004 Phase 2 of the School Walking Routes pilot project was expanded from the City of Toronto to three other Ontario municipalities – London, Brantford and Brampton. Phase 2 of this pilot was completed in 2006.

For more information visit Active and Safe Routes to School.

Putting It Into Practice: Speed Sensitive Signals

Boulder, CO; Arlington, VA; and Washington, D.C.

High-speed motor vehicles pose a serious threat to the safety of children who are crossing arterial streets near schools and are one of the largest challenges in providing safe routes to school. Innovative measures have been used to reduce motor vehicle speeds such as the speed sensitive signals used in Boulder, CO, Arlington, VA and Washington, D.C.

The signals use pavement loops to detect the speed of a motor vehicle. If the motor vehicle exceeds the speed limit, the traffic signal ahead displays a red light. Drivers learn that speeding on such streets will require them to stop at the light and be further delayed. The sign “speed sensitive signal” conveys that message to drivers.

Speed sensitive signals were added in as part of a traffic calming project done at Sunnyslope High School in Phoenix, Arizona. The signals monitored motorists speed and flashed their driving speed and a bright LED strobe light if a motorist exceeded the 35 mph speed limit by 5 mph or more.

Along with other traffic improvements, including a staggered crosswalk, the speed sensitive signals resulted in slower motorist speeds (on average cars went 6 mph under the speed limit) and a reduction in pedestrian crashes. The avenue averaged 32 pedestrian crashes per year during the previous three years, but only one crash in the six months following the project (PEDSAFE, 2013).

Putting It Into Practice: Student Waiting Areas and Stand Back Lines

Phoenix, AZ

These images highlight the differences before and after a waiting area and stand-back line were installed at RE Miller Elementary School in Phoenix, AZ.

Unfortunately, many school crossings are at busy streets, and many of the sidewalks in Phoenix were built prior to the time when sidewalk buffer areas were required as a part of the design to separate pedestrians and motor vehicle traffic. It is important to provide a separation between moving vehicles and young children waiting to cross a busy street. This is not possible with a five foot-wide sidewalk.

One such school crossing was identified by the Washington Elementary School District in northwest Phoenix. This is a crossing for RE Miller Elementary School for nearly 100 children over a busy five-lane street with nearly 40,000 motor vehicles per day. Despite the presence of two crossing guards and a 15 mph school zone, the school district expressed a concern about the large groups of children waiting on a five-foot wide sidewalk before crossing.

The school district, City, and property owners worked together on a solution to provide a safe area for students to wait. The property owner (church) provided an easement to build a 10 ft by 20 ft waiting area behind the sidewalk. The school district moved the existing wood fence behind the new student waiting pad, and the City modified the landscaping behind the sidewalk, poured a concrete pad for students, and placed a ‘Stand-Back’ line between the sidewalk and student waiting area. These low-cost and low-tech measures provided a considerable safety benefit at the crosswalk. Since then, Phoenix has built nearly 80 student waiting areas at major crossings where large numbers of students congregate before crossing. Even more of the painted ‘stand-back’ lines have been installed at numerous school crossings.

This example illustrates that you do not have to spend a lot of money to obtain a big safety dividend. Some of the least expensive measures can have a big impact on safety.

Putting It Into Practice: Traffic Control Plan

Sabin Elementary, Portland, OR

As a result of a technical analysis of pedestrian safety around Portland Schools, the City Traffic Calming program identified Sabin Elementary as a high priority for traffic calming measures.

The school, with 500 children enrolled, is served by a traditional grid street pattern with north-south and east-west arterials. Some of the problems affecting the area included traffic congestion during pick-up and drop-off areas and unsafe pedestrian crossings.

In order to start the planning process, the City staff created the Sabin School Safety Committee along with key stakeholders. Among people involved in the Committee were the school principal, community members, the school PTA, and Portland Police, among others. The Committee identified major problems to work on, developed goals, and adopted the specific objectives of decreasing speeds on the north-south arterials, increasing visibility at key intersections, and improving crossing safety at two east-west arterial streets. Community feedback on the program was gauged through an open house, as well as a survey distributed to properties near the proposed improvement sites.

Once community concerns were addressed, the City conducted a pilot program of temporary improvements to see how they would affect driving conditions in the area. The pilot program demonstrated positive traffic calming and pedestrian safety effects, and the City went forward with the final permanent program. The total cost for the project was $54,000.

After the traffic calming measures were made permanent, two-way car conflicts have been reduced and pedestrian safety has increased. Discussions with nearby residents indicate that traffic congestion has decreased, as have dangerous conditions during the opening and closing of school (PEDSAFE, 2013).