School Zone Improvements

Traffic safety around schools is a paramount concern to parents, school officials, and communities. Increasing the number of children who walk or bicycle to school will help improve their health and quality of life. Improvements should start at the planning level; when new elementary schools are sited, they should be placed inside neighborhoods to minimize the need for young children to cross busy arterial streets. These schools should not front busy arterial streets. School officials need to review attendance boundaries and walking attendance boundaries so that young children do not have to face unnecessary challenges on their way to and from school.

Schools should develop "Safe Routes to School" walking and bicycle plans to serve all residences within the walking attendance boundary and work with local agencies to identify and correct traffic problem areas while developing these plans. These "Safe Route to School" walking and bicycling plans help to identify where traffic control (signs, traffic signals, crosswalks, adult guards, etc.) should be placed around the school and along school routes. Marked crosswalks can help guide children to the best routes to school with these plans. For more information on Safe Routes to School plans and maps, visit the National Center for Safe Routes to School web site.

A variety of roadway improvements can be used to enhance the safety and mobility of children walking to or from school. Sidewalks or separated walkways and paths are essential for a safe trip from home to school on foot or by bike. Sidewalks need to be kept clear of obstructions and should be promptly repaired when damaged. Wider sidewalks should be used closer to schools where larger groups of students are walking.

The greatest hazards to all pedestrians occur when crossing streets; young children are even more vulnerable, as they have trouble judging traffic and finding an acceptable gap to cross. The use of trained adult crossing guards has been found to be one of the most effective measures for assisting children in crossing streets safely. Some agencies require two adult guards for crossings wide multi-lane streets. Adult crossing guards require periodic training and monitoring and should be equipped with bright and reflective Class 2 safety vests (as provided in the MUTCD) and a STOP paddle. Student safety patrols may be used to assist adult guards or provide assistance on campus to assist with younger students (drop-off zone valets, student management). Some of the most effective safety treatments are low-cost and easy to implement measures such as larger standing areas and stand-back lines to keep students further back from busy streets while waiting to cross.

Some challenging streets can be modified to simplify crossings through the use of road diets, crossing islands, or other treatments to minimize the crossing distance. A road diet is a low-cost way to reduce the number of through lanes on a street. For example, a four-lane street (two-lanes in each direction) can be converted by paint to have one lane in each direction, a center two-way-left-turn lane, and on-street bike lanes to provide a much more pedestrian-friendly street. Other improvements for multilane streets include advance stop lines placed 40 to 50 feet (13 to 17 m) in advance of the crosswalk with STOP/YIELD HERE FOR PEDESTRIANS signs. Police enforcement in school zones may be needed in situations where drivers are speeding or not yielding to children in crosswalks. Radar speed boards and other innovative enforcement programs, such as photo speed or red-light cameras, may also be employed at some crossings if allowed by state law.

Other helpful measures include parking prohibitions near intersections and crosswalks near schools; increased child supervision at crossings; and the use of signs and pavement markings, such as the school advance warning sign (which can be fluorescent yellow/green) and SPEED LIMIT XX MPH WHEN FLASHING signs with flashers on a timer. School administrators and parent-teacher organizations need to educate students and parents about school safety and access to and from school. Education, enforcement, and well-designed roads must all be in place to encourage motorists to drive appropriately. Appropriate traffic control devices at crossings and traffic calming devices inside neighborhoods (speed humps, speed tables, raised intersections, traffic circles, and chokers) can be very helpful in controlling vehicle speeds. Care should be taken so that traffic calming devices do not disrupt emergency vehicles, bike lanes, or the flow of stormwater runoff.

One of the biggest safety problems around schools is often caused by parents or caretakers dropping off and picking up children. There are two immediate solutions: 1) there needs to be a clearly marked area where parents are permitted to drop off and pick up their children, and 2) drop-off/pick-up regulations must be provided to parents prior to the first day of school. Drop-off areas must be located away from where children on foot cross streets or access the school and should be designed to create the appropriate amount of on-site vehicle storage or queuing along the on-street drop-off zone. Teachers, parent volunteers, or older students can be used as valets to speed up student loading/unloading and better organize the process. Parent drop-off zones must be separated from bus drop-off zones. If parents can be trained to do it right at the start of the school year, they are likely to continue with this good behavior throughout the year.

For a longer term solution, it is preferable to create an environment where children can walk or bicycle safely to school, provided they live within a suitable distance. One strategy that has been successful in some communities is the concept of a "walking school bus," where an adult accompanies children to school, starting at one location and picking children up along the way. Soon, a fairly sizeable group of children are walking together under the supervision of a responsible adult, who is mindful of street crossings. The presence of such groups affects drivers' behavior, as they tend to be more watchful of children walking. Parents can take turns accompanying the walking school bus in ways that fit their schedules.

Another solution is to preserve or identify where short-cuts can be created—for example, where there are cul-de-sacs—to shorten the walking distance and provide a safer walking environment. Street lighting and pedestrian level lighting can increase both pedestrian safety and security for students. Lighting along the school campus may also help minimize vandalism at the school.

Bicycle education and encouragement, the appropriate bicycling facilities, and well-placed bike racks on campus can encourage more children to ride their bikes to schools.


  • Provide enhanced safety around schools
  • Slow vehicle speeds at schools and school crossings
  • Encourage more children to walk or bike to school


  • Safety must be a combined effort between local traffic officials, police, school officials, parents, students, and the community.
  • School attendance and walking attendance boundaries should be reviewed and may need to be adjusted to provide safest walking and bicycling conditions for children.
  • "Safe Route to School" walking maps should be developed to serve all homes within the walking attendance boundaries of all elementary schools and middle schools.
  • There are a wide variety of engineering treatments and traffic control techniques that can be used to improve safety and walkability at schools and school crossings. Each school will need to utilize its own set of engineering treatments.
  • Local officials should review school area sidewalks, crosswalks, and other traffic control devices annually to make sure they are in good condition before the start of the next school year.
  • School officials need to provide feedback to local officials and police to help identify problems areas or maintenance needs.

Estimated cost

Costs depend on the school zone treatment selected. For example, if signs were chosen, costs might include $50 to $150 per sign plus installation costs. A marked crosswalk may cost from $300 to $1000 depending on the crosswalk marking design (parallel lines versus ladder, etc.), materials used, and the width of the street. A traffic signal costs from $150,000 to $200,000 (assuming substantial street improvements are not needed for the new signal).