Approaches to Protect Students in Bus Loading Zones

Recent student fatalities highlight the importance of maximizing safety in and around this area at schools. Pupil transportation industry professionals offer many effective ways to do so, from separating groups of traffic to implementing detailed policies for bus drivers to providing training for students. Communicating with school staff and parents is essential.

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Analyzing and Separating Traffic Is Encouraged

Pupil transportation professionals agree that analyzing the traffic flow in and around loading zones and separating school buses from other types of traffic are excellent ways to prevent loading zone fatalities.

“Take a step back and look at the design of the loading zone,” says Kathy Furneaux, executive director of Syracuse, N.Y.-based Pupil Transportation Safety Institute. “When you have a big melting pot of traffic, it really becomes problematic because of the blind spots around a bus.”

Furneaux says separating traffic to increase safety does not always involve a major overhaul. She was recently asked by officials at a school in Liberty, N.Y., to evaluate their loading zone because they were having problems with traffic.

“It was as simple as moving a section of a parking lot over and putting in another lane,” Furneaux reveals.

Ted Finlayson-Schueler, president of Safety Rules!, in Syracuse, N.Y., says that one of the best ways to analyze loading zones is to start before the buses arrive and continue until all stragglers have left. He recommends videotaping the process from a location where the entire area can be seen (the school rooftop, for instance) so that each vehicle’s movement can be studied.

He also suggests getting a map of the school property and noting all of its entrances as well as parking lot/street entrances and identifying where each group (school buses, parents in their personal vehicles, school staff, students who walk to school, etc.) is currently accessing the building and its surrounding area.

Like Furneaux, Finlayson-Schueler encourages separating each class of traffic. This can be accomplished with space or time. “If parents are not let onto the school grounds in the afternoon until the buses have left, you have two loading zones separated by time instead of one that is dangerous and congested,” Finlayson-Schueler explains. “In the same way, driving staff and students can be held in their parking lots until the buses are released, creating space for the buses to leave without having to share the roadway.”

Finlayson-Schueler notes that special attention should be given to students who walk to school. “Walkers need to have clear direction about how to access and leave the school, and careful consideration should be given to their ability to do that without having to cross traffic while coming to or leaving the school. If walkers are held in the school until the buses leave, it can significantly reduce congestion,” he says.

Operations Relocate Bus Loading Zones, Renovate Parking Lots

Many transportation departments have worked to separate traffic at their districts’ school sites.

Vail (Ariz.) School District’s transportation department is one such o
peration. Al Flores, director of transportation and facilities, says separating the traffic at one school site has entailed designating a bus loading zone at the back of the property and directing parent and staff parking to the front of the property.

“We’ve installed safety rails along all of the loading areas so that when students get off the bus they can’t inadvertently step back into the loading areas,” Flores adds.

He says that upon analyzing the traffic at another school site, the department found that very few buses dropped off students; there were more walkers than buses, so what used to be the bus loading area was turned into a parent parking lot.

The operation’s ability to easily reconfigure its schools’ loading zones stems from its participation in determining the layout of the schools.

“We put together a committee, and it usually consists of transportation staff, administrators, principals, additional school staff, parents for students at those grade levels, as well as people from the neighborhood,” Flores explains. “We get everyone’s input, from the way the buildings are laid out to where the buses drop off. When we all get involved, everyone who’s affected by the process buys into it.”

The transportation departments at Lake Shore Central School District in Angola, N.Y., and Fayette County School Corp. in Connersville, Ind., have also redirected and separated traffic at their schools.

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