School Zones are areas near marked school crosswalks installed adjacent to school grounds. The crosswalks are normally placed where it is desired for school children to cross at a single location. For elementary school age students these locations may be monitored by a crossing guard or school patrol.
Washington law, in regard to driving speed in a designated school zone, specifies "Speed 20 miles per hour when children are present." This reduced speed is in effect 24 hours per day, not just during crossing hours. In some cases the school crossing area may have speed beacons (flashers). At these crossings the 20-mph school zone is in effect anytime these beacons are flashing.
Parking may be removed in the vicinity of school crosswalks to allow motorists to see children and reduce speed slowly, thus minimizing the risk of rear end collisions.
The underlying philosophy for school crosswalk planning emphasizes pedestrian demand. When crosswalks are confined to heavily used locations, motorists are apt to be more alert when approaching them. If we were to install crosswalks in little used locations, drivers would become oblivious to them, and the effectiveness of all crosswalks would be significantly reduced.
- What are the official guidelines?
The State of Washington Revised Code (RCW or State Law) states: "It shall be unlawful for a driver of any vehicle to operate the vehicle in excess of 20 miles per hour when passing any marked school crosswalk when such crosswalk is fully posted with standard school speed limit signs." The RCW further states: "The speed zone at the (school) crosswalk shall extend three hundred feet in either direction from the marked crosswalk."
The RCW's also require all governmental agencies within the state to follow the national guidelines for traffic control devices. These guidelines are contained within the "Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices" (MUTCD). The MUTCD covers all aspects of the placement, construction, and maintenance of every form of approved traffic control.
- Where would we normally expect to see marked school crosswalks?
School crosswalks are normally marked at or adjacent to elementary and middle schools. Other locations may also be marked if: they are part of an approved school walking route and the crossing is at an intersection where there is a substantial conflict between vehicle and pedestrian movements; or where significant school age pedestrian concentrations occur; or where pedestrians could not otherwise recognize the proper place to cross. Examples of such locations are:
- Approved school crossings with either adult crossing guard or school patrol.
- Signalized intersections where there are pedestrian signals and where one or more crossing locations have been prohibited.
These examples follow the philosophy of marking crosswalks as a form of encouragement. In the first case, we are encouraging school children to use a crossing, which is normally being monitored. In the second case, we are encouraging all pedestrians to avoid a prohibited crossing.
- Why don't they provide 20-mph school zones at high schools?}
Normally a 20-mph school zone is not provided at high schools because the age and experience of the high school students is such they are able to judge when and where it is safe for them to cross.
Younger children tend to show little or no concern when moving vehicles are near them. They simply assume the motorist will see them and act accordingly. "After all," the young child reasons, "I can see both the driver and the car!"
- Why do some crossings have "flashers" and crossing guards and others do not?
By state guidelines school speed beacons (flashers) are considered to be extra-ordinary devices. As such, they should only be installed at those locations where it may be desirable for addition emphasis. For instance, locations where the posted speed limit is 35 miles per hour or more, or the street has a high traffic volume, and/or on multilane streets. School speed beacons also serve to limit the time that the zone is in effect. Because they are considered extra-ordinary devices, the cost to install the school speed beacons is the responsibility of the local school district.
The same is true for adult crossing guards. The guards go through specialized training and are employed by the school district. They are typically placed where there is a large amount of young school age students crossing an uncontrolled street. An uncontrolled street is one where there is no stop or yield sign or traffic signal. Typically the street being crossed has high traffic volumes with inadequate gaps for the students to cross without the guard artificially creating the gaps in the street traffic flow.
- How do we request a designated school crossing?
The Kennewick School District, through the office of the Assistant Superintendent, may request the City to investigate the need for a marked school crosswalk. The results of this engineering study are then forwarded to the City of Kennewick Traffic Safety Commission for their consideration. If a school crossing is warranted and the Commission approves its installation, the City will then install the appropriate signs and markings.
While the City of Kennewick and the Kennewick School District are dedicated to traffic safety, we have had to resign ourselves to the fact that we cannot fill all needs or requests to the public's satisfaction. Upon occasion requests are denied. Our response to requests for marking crosswalks is cautious, for test after test has proven that an unwarranted marked crosswalk can be three or four times as dangerous to pedestrians as a unmarked crosswalk.