For the record, I am happy with the current School Zone system. At least we have done something. But if we are going to tinker with it some more, below is what I think:
The areas around schools in Edmonton are currently not safe, as drivers sometimes speed or stunt with kids present. Stunting can involve U-turns, driving in the wrong lane, or general motor-vehicle misbehavior. I have seen it all. Pick-up and drop-off times can be a mess outside of schools… but in most of these cases, drivers are not speeding but in gridlock: cars idling, horns honking, passive-aggressive accelerations, and sudden braking. Vehicles are mostly at a standstill, and that is why 30 km/h School Zones are actually missing the boat: there is much hullabaloo about them, but they are not addressing the problem. Speed is generally not the concern; driver frustration is the problem, as it leads to unsafe maneuvers. We need to fix the causes of frustration and safety will follow.
When roads around a school are jammed twice a day, everyone is irritated, including the neighbours. The traffic flow at school sites could be vastly improved if these three simple steps were implemented.
- Currently, AMA, a private organization, sponsors children as crossing guards at many schools. Although they are adorable, the kids are not effective; they unduly add to the gridlock by being unable to conduct traffic as trained adults could. A professional crossing guard program should be established that would see a community member come out in the morning and afternoon to direct traffic properly. This would be a quasi-volunteer position for a good Samaritan, with an honorarium offered. Armed with a vest, whistle, and a no-nonsense attitude, the crossing guard would have the ability and discretion to conduct traffic, with the authority similar to a traffic cop.
- The City needs to remove windrows (hard snow/ice piles left by snow plows) from larger areas than just around the school’s frontage. This would facilitate additional curbside pick-up and drop-off areas. The extra room to park in the winter would do wonders and the costs to the City would be marginal.
- Speeding is not an issue during pick-up and drop-off times (cars barely move), and so the intent of the 30 km/h School Zones is seemingly only to control speed during off-peak school hours (e.g. the resident driving through the neighbourhood at 10am). Currently, vehicles are still allowed to perform dangerous maneuvers such as U-turns in School Zones. I propose that School Zones be re-evaluated and treated similar to Construction Zones, in which speeding fines double. The maximum speed should revert to 50km/h (or possibly 40km/h). Fines for speeding, stunting, failing to stop at stop signs, and other violations within School Zones should be strictly enforced, but it is safe to allow vehicles to travel up to 50km/h in these zones. If you speed or misbehave, the law will come down hard on you.
All three of these steps would be simple to implement and would reduce the risks caused by driver frustration, thereby increase safety. The professional crossing guard would be inexpensive, while giving a local community member a unique sense of fulfilment. This is done in many other jurisdictions. Maybe AMA wants to sponsor this program? Removing additional windrows is a small extra step to a process already being conducted, and it is a neighbourly gesture to local residents who are already inconvenienced by the school. Finally, School Zones can remain as they are defined. We would just have to remove the separate 30 km/h signs. This would take a construction crew 15 minutes per school to adjust. As drivers approach a School Zone, they’ll know that if they go 51 km/h, then they will be smacked with a large fine, as is the case in construction zones.
Instead of creating conditions for success (as I have outlined), our current City Council would rather control your behaviour. When was the last time that Council tried to solve an issue by not adding more restrictions to the problem? For the record, I am also against the city-wide proposal of 40 km/h everywhere, as City Council is currently contemplating. With the new Big Cities Charter, I could support School Zones being 40km/h (hence my reference to this speed in point #3, above).
Finally, while parents driving their kids to school is always an option, I advocate for active transportation for students. I think that school-aged children who can do so should consider walking or biking: it promotes better health; it gives one a sense of direction, geography, and scheduling; and it will reduce traffic congestion issues. But overall, I am for choice, not dictation.
And let’s not forget that safety on our streets is important EVERYWHERE. We need to ensure safety outside of School Zones, as well. I believe that police (in police cars) should enforce the speed limit on all roads. Photo radar is not effective, as the speeder continues to speed after a photo is shot of them. With more police around, in cars, the police are also able to respond to emergencies and crime quickly. Careless driving near a school should result in a large fine, but how can we reward good behaviour? We all want our kids to be safe. Are we tackling this issue incorrectly?
Let’s keep our roads safe and use some common sense in doing so.
I am running in the upcoming municipal election for Ward 3, in the beautiful north side. If elected, I will advocate for the implementation of these three common-sense ideas, which I hope will reduce frustration and improve safety.
The solution is so simple, as is your choice if you live in Ward 3.
“Jon D for Ward 3”
North Side Journal