I have had several parents talk to me about the City's bylaw which does not allow school buses to use their stop signs and red flashing lights in City limits on roads under 80 km/h. With the recent accident of a child being hit by a vehicle while crossing the road, this issue has made headlines again.
Council decided to take a look at this issue again, review the bylaw, and make a decision about what is best for the safety of our children. I want to share some of my thoughts and research on the subject that will be guiding me as I examine the bylaw.
First, our children's safety should be the number one concern. I want to live in a community where decisions are being made to make our streets as safe as possible.
Second, when it comes to bussing our kids, we need to minimize the times where crossing the street is necessary. Our school boards always try to design routes so as to minimize the number of times street crossings are required. Where feasible, they try to accommodate special requests. In this most recent incident, the public school board was able to redesign the route so that the child no longer has to cross the road and is picked up on his side of the street.
Third, there are inevitably going to be times where road crossing has to occur. So the question to ask is: where is the safest place to do so?
It has long been the opinion of transportation departments, enforcement agencies, and road safety advocates that in urban settings, crosswalks and intersections should always be the preferred place to cross streets. They argue that these are designed to have greater visibility so that pedestrians and drivers can more easily see each other. They are usually better lit, have fewer obstacles to be hidden by, and are typically marked for drivers to see. Also, crosswalks are usually permanent and do not change from year to year.
As such, these officials argue that it is less safe to cross a roadway mid-street, even with a temporary stop sign out on a bus. They say that crossing mid-street doesn't always offer the same visibility as crosswalks. There can be large vehicles and/or trailers parked on the street that reduce visibility and block sightlines. Also, there are many residential streets that have sharp curves and vehicles cannot see a bus until they are several metres away.
In essence, the temporary nature of school bus stops (which can change month to month) gives less predictability to drivers to know when and where to stop. Thus, we would be giving our kids a false sense of security by letting them think it is safe to cross a road just because a stop sign is up.
On the flipside, I have parents who say that while crosswalks and intersections may be the safest way to cross a street, in reality, children will take the shortest distance to the bus which typically involves crossing mid-street. Since this is the case, shouldn't we minimize the risk of kids being hit by having buses put out stop signs?
When it comes to public safety, City Council must make decisions that minimize risks to the greatest extent possible while being feasible. In this case, we need to decide which option minimizes the chance of being hit the most.
Like all policies, the answer may not be black and white. On the whole, studies have shown that in the few cities that have allowed bus stop signs, there has been a higher rate of accidents. However, there are many factors in GP that could affect outcomes differently such as road widths, engineering standards, type of vehicles on roads, amount of daylight, etc. It could be that the stop signs could be allowed under certain conditions. While the vast majority of cities feel it is safer to not allow the stop signs in city limits, there are a couple that do not, like Fort McMurray.
This is why I'm supportive of having the Community Safety committee look at this bylaw again to make sure we are promoting the safest policies for our children.
Some further reading: