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School Speed Zone and School Crossing Program
 


Introduction

Pedestrian safety depends in a large measure upon public understanding of accepted methods for effective traffic control. This principal is never more important than in the control of pedestrians and vehicles in the vicinity of a school. Neither school children nor vehicle operators can be expected to move safely in school areas unless they understand both the need for traffic controls and the ways in which these controls function for their benefit.

worker installing a school zone sign

Non-uniform procedures and devices cause confusion among pedestrians and vehicle operators, prompt wrong decisions, and can contribute to collisions. To achieve uniformity of traffic control in school areas, comparable traffic situations must be treated in the same manner. Each traffic control device and control method described in this program fulfills a specific function.

The type of school area traffic control used, either warning or regulatory, must be related to the volume and speed of traffic, street width, and the number and age of children crossing. For this reason, the traffic controls necessary in a school area located on a major highway would not necessarily be needed on a residential street away from heavy traffic. Most important is a uniform approach to school area traffic control to assure the use of similar controls for similar situations (which promotes uniform behavior on the part of vehicle operators and pedestrians).

The safety of students enroute to or from school is the joint responsibility of parents, school administrators, other public officials, and the general public. It is a mistake to place excessive emphasis on the protective capacity of a school zone or a school crossing. Passive physical devices can accomplish nothing unless they generate the appropriate response on the human level.

This program sets forth guidelines for the establishment of school speed zones and school crossings in the city of Charlotte.

Application

For the purposes of this program, a school is defined as any educational institution with enrollment of 200 or more for students in grade 12 and under.

Requests for Evaluation

The Charlotte Department of Transportation (CDOT) will process requests from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' Safety Officer, a school principal, or the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police School Coordinator for a school speed zone or for a school crossing. CDOT staff, together with an official of the school if the school so desires, will make an inspection of the location. This inspection will consider but not necessarily be limited to the following factors:

  • Physical conditions of the area
  • Vehicular volume, speed and other conditions pertaining to traffic
  • Proposed pedestrian walk plan for the area served by the crossing or speed zone (prepared by the school).

Upon consideration of the above information together with the report and recommendations of the staff, the Department of Transportation may approve or disapprove the school speed zone or school crossing. When it has been determined that a school speed zone or a school crossing is needed to reduce hazards and increase safety, plans will be prepared and the zone and/or crossing will be installed by the Department of Transportation.

School Busing Considerations

Because busing of students is a major factor in the number of school pedestrians in an area, and because busing schedules change yearly, the need for each established school speed zone or school crossing may be reviewed at the beginning of each school year. Those school zones and crossings which no longer meet minimum criteria should be removed.

School Speed Zones

The purpose of school speed zones is to reduce the speeds of vehicular traffic so that:

  • A shorter vehicle travel distance is required for a driver to recognize and react to situations requiring slowing, stopping, or evasive action.
  • Pedestrians, especially young pedestrians, can more accurately anticipate vehicular movements.

School speed zones in Charlotte will be set at 25 miles per hour. They will operate from 45 minutes before school begins in the morning until 15 minutes after school begins and again 15 minutes before school is out in the afternoon until 30 minutes after school is out unless otherwise determined by the Department of Transportation.

School speed zones will be designated as follows:

  • Local streets - On local streets the school speed zones will be the "background" speed zones. The base speed limit will be reduced to 25 miles per hour on the entire street or reasonable portion thereof.
  • Elementary and middle schools fronting on other than local streets - For these streets, the school speed zones will be "standard"  school speed zones. A standard school speed zone will be established along the entire property frontage of elementary and middle schools on streets other than local streets. The zones will begin 100 feet in advance of each property line. When an elementary or middle school has no street frontage but has a driveway directly on a street other than a local street, the standard school speed zone will begin at the projection of the property line.
  • Locations of Type I school crossings outside standard school zones - Reduced school speed zones will also be used beginning 200 feet in advance of Type I crossings on streets other than local streets outside the standard zones. (See School Crossing section of this program)
  • High Schools - If an engineering evaluation reveals the need, school speed zones may be installed along the frontage of high schools with any of the following characteristics:
    -     Fronting on streets with six or more through lanes
    -     Fronting on streets with speed limits in excess of 35
          miles per hour
    -     Where more than 40 students must use a street other
          than a local street to walk to and from school or to wait
          for a City bus
    However, if a school traffic signal is in place along the frontage of the school in question, every effort should be made to address all issues with that method of traffic control before installing a reduced school speed zone.

School Crossings

In some instances, a combination of vehicular volume, pedestrian volume, pedestrian age, and street width require more than just a 25 mile per hour speed zone to aid pedestrians in crossing vehicular traffic. In these cases, designated school crossings may be added to the streets in the vicinity of the school. Three different types of school crossings are used in the city of Charlotte. For all three school crossing types, a minimum of five school-age pedestrians should use the crossing. Otherwise, other measures such as extending bus routes to serve the very few walkers would be appropriate.

Type 1 - School crossing with speed zone

The Type 1 school crossing consists of a marked crosswalk, an adult crossing guard, and, if the crossing is located in a standard school speed zone, the establishment of a school speed zone 200 feet on each approach to the crossing. The minimum requirement for a Type 1 crossing addresses vehicular traffic volume and speed, pedestrian volume, and street width.

Type 2 - School crossing without speed zone

The Type 2 school crossing consists of a marked crosswalk and an adult crossing guard. Unless the crossing is located in a standard school speed zone, the Type 2 school crossing does not include a school speed zone. The minimum criteria for a Type 2 crossing also address vehicular traffic volume and speed, pedestrian volume, and street width with special emphasis on pedestrians by age group.

Type 3 - School crossing with pedestrian traffic signal

The Type 3 school crossing consists of a marked crosswalk, an adult crossing guard, and an actuated pedestrian signal which will operate during school arrival and dismissal only. The minimum criteria for a Type 3 crossing is five school-age pedestrians and a base (not considering the standard school speed zone) 85th percentile speed of 35 miles per hour or where there is less than one acceptable gap per minute.

Restrictions on establishing and Operating School Crossings

There are instances in which a school crossing could cause more harm than good. Therefore, there are some instances in which school crossings should not be employed:

  • At no time should a school crossing be used as a device to control vehicular speed except as stated in the North Carolina Motor Vehicle Code at a bona-fide installation.
  • Unless protected by a school pedestrian traffic signal, school crossings should not be installed between intersections. Non-signalized, mid-block crossing locations present the driver with an unexpected situation for which she or he is not prepared. Furthermore, operation of a non-signalized, mid-block school crossing could adversely affect the operation of adjacent intersections.
  • Signalized intersections on a designated school walk route shall have pedestrian signals. If an intersection where a school crossing is established is subsequently signalized, all school crossing markings and signs may be removed.
  • School crossing signs and markings should not be established on approaches where traffic is controlled by stop sign.
  • School crossing signs and markings shall not be established within 600 feet of a signalized intersection, a four-way stop, or another school crossing when located on the same street.
  • A school crossing shall not be established at a location leading to an unprotected railroad track except at an established grade crossing.
  • A school crossing shall not be established at locations with inadequate sight distance.
  • School crossing guards shall be adults or school safety patrol. Adult guards are currently employed, trained, and supervised by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
  • The legal obligation of the guard is to choose adequate gaps in traffic to enforce the proper use of the crossing by school children. Therefore, guards shall not direct vehicular traffic unless authorized by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department to do so. The guard should more properly concentrate his or her attention on controlling the students and choosing adequate gaps in traffic in which to cross them.
  • Neither school crossings nor crossing guards are used at high schools.

Other Traffic Control in School Areas

Where the guidelines for school speed zones or school crossings are not met, other forms of traffic control may be appropriate:

  • Where a school crossing is not warranted, but young students, K-4, use the crossing location and conditions exist that would create a hazard should a child select an unacceptable gap, a crossing guard may be assigned to the crossing location and a Type 2 crossing installed. Furthermore, the crossing guard shall only assist the children in crossing safely and shall not attempt to direct traffic. This also applies to signalized intersections at which young students might misinterpret the pedestrian signals and need assistance. No special signs and markings are required at a signalized intersection at which a guard is assigned to help young children and there are crosswalks and pedestrian signals.
  • At high schools or at elementary and middle schools without a Type 3 crossing, a school traffic signal may be installed if the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) Warrant 1A or 1B is met for one hour either before school arrival or after dismissal. The signal will operate 6 am to 11 pm.
  • Off-duty officers may be employed by schools to control traffic at schools with a permit from the City of Charlotte. The permit process is administered by CDOT.
  • As a standard, the SCHOOL pavement marking will be used at the beginning of every school speed zone. In the case of local streets and high schools, the SCHOOL pavement marking may be used where the speed zone would begin if it existed.