How to Manage School Traffic Safely

During student drop-off and pick-up times, your school parking lot is packed with buses, vans, parent and student vehicles, bicycles, skateboards, and pedestrians. This high volume of activity can lead to traffic, unsafe conditions, and potential injuries and property damage. Establishing and following a transportation or traffic plan for each of your school’s buildings can help reduce traffic congestion and create a safer environment for your students, staff, and visitors. Here are some of the most important elements to address in your traffic plan.

Parking Lot Design and Traffic Flow

  • Design traffic flows so they do not interfere with pedestrian traffic, if possible.
  • Use one-way lanes of travel.
  • Avoid using entry roads and lanes that provide long stretches of straight travel, to discourage speeding.
  • Install speed-calming devices, including speed bumps, safety islands, or differing pavement surfacing.
  • Locate parking lots away from student loading and unloading locations and other areas with high levels of foot traffic, if possible.
  • Clearly identify short-term visitor parking and locate it close to the main entrance.
  • Restrict parallel parking next to curbs near entrances, crosswalks, and exits.
  • Keep parking lots and travel areas well-lit and illuminated, especially at night and during inclement weather.
  • Use supervisors to monitor traffic flow and pedestrian movement.
  • Plan for winter weather. Snow piles can reduce available parking, obstruct views of drivers and pedestrians, and create slip, trip, and fall hazards. Consider moving snow off-site or locating snow piles in the far corners of your parking lot.

Bus Loading and Unloading

  • Design loading and unloading areas for single-file bus staging in a one-way, counter-clockwise traffic direction.
  • Confirm the area is large enough for the expected number of buses. Students should not need to pass in between or in front of buses in order to enter or exit.
  • Provide separate travel lanes for buses, where possible, to limit interactions with other traffic and pedestrians. If your school has on-site bus loading zones, provide a second lane for stopping.
  • Use two traffic lanes: one for travel and one for stopping. Additionally, use two outbound lanes that allow exiting traffic to make both left and right turns.

Signage and Pavement Markings

  • Post appropriate signage at all vehicle access points that clearly indicates who is permitted to use parking areas and when.
  • Post “Bus Only” and/or “No Entry” signs at entrances to bus-only loops or areas.
  • Use simple wording and standard sizing for all signs.
  • Use signage with reflective or lighted markings.
  • Post signs in clearly visible locations and where they do not obstruct views of oncoming traffic or pedestrians.
  • Inspect signs regularly and replace as needed. Also confirm signs do not become obstructed by trees, plants, or other items.
  • Do not use homemade signs.

Parent Drop-Off and Pick-Up

  • Separate parent drop-off and pick-up locations from bus areas and use appropriate signage to indicate each area.
  • Provide transportation procedures and rules to parents and students before the school year begins. Include details such as speed limits, traffic flows, and parking lot hours of operation as well as the consequences of violating your school’s policies.
  • Discourage parents and students from using mobile phones while driving on school grounds.
  • Discourage drop-off and pick-up practices that require students to cross roadways or travel through a parking lot or vehicle pathway.
  • If loading and unloading areas require students to cross roadways or lots, use clearly marked pedestrian crosswalks and traffic control guards.

Additionally, consider involving traffic experts as well as the local municipality and law enforcement to assist in the planning efforts for your school. These groups can help address issues with adjacent roadways that are not on your property and enforce traffic violations near the school property and in school zones. By creating a traffic plan for your school, you can help improve safety for your students, teachers, and visitors.

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The illustrations, instructions, and principles in this material are general in scope and, to the best of our knowledge, current at the time of publication. No attempt has been made to interpret any referenced codes, standards, or regulations nor to identify all potential risks or requirements.