Mayor Makepeace

Updating School Traffic Safety: Proactive Planning and Creative Funding

"Our city exists to serve its citizens, not the least of which is that special constituency we hold dear: our community’s children. Our School Safety Program reflects our best efforts, combining the resources and talents of many to protect our children."
-Mayor Makepeace

Budgetary constraints for both the City of Colorado Springs and the area’s five school districts during an extended period of rapid growth and increasing traffic congestion began to take its toll on our School Student Safety Program over time. After a fatal accident involving a young child on her way to school, questions began to surface about which public agency should bear responsibility for the safety of school children.

Multi-Jurisdictional Review

In response, the city initiated a multi-jurisdictional review of the school safety issue that involved citizen input; the City Manager’s direct involvement with each school superintendent; and the City Council meeting individually with each Board of Education. The purpose of the city’s efforts was to establish closer coordination and to better define responsibilities between city staff and the school districts. Some needs and issues of mutual concern that were discussed included:

  • Staffing of crossing guards along high-hazard routes;
  • Crosswalk installation and maintenance;
  • Providing additional traffic engineering-related technical assistance;
  • Intergovernmental planning of walk-to-school routes;
  • Placement of traffic control devices, school zone flashing lights, and pedestrian-activated signals;
  • Creation of an in-school education program;
  • Enhanced planning of new school sites; and
  • Redefining individual boundaries.

Financing the Upgrade

To finance the new program, the City Council imposed a modest surcharge on all traffic "moving" violations written by city police officers. The city shared roughly half of the surcharge revenue with the area’s school districts to fund school crossing guards at high-risk locations. With its remaining portion, the city will make the following improvements:

  • Begin an elementary school traffic safety education program ($60,000/year);
  • Install 10 new school flashers annually ($80,000/year);
  • Construct pedestrian-related traffic signal improvements ($40,000/year); and
  • Provide staffing (two technicians) to accomplish the related Traffic Safety Program elements ($90,000/year).

Benefits of Planning Process

Along with the achievements described above, it should be noted that many benefits were realized through preparation for and discussions at the meetings alone. One of the most significant achievements was the realization of the impact that school site planning and boundary changes can have on future expenditures for all governmental bodies. The need to minimize or eliminate non-pedestrian friendly situations before construction also was emphasized, since mitigating them after the fact is very expensive, and normally results in less than optimum results. The discussions also ensured that coordination included the proper departments and points of contact.

Other benefits will be achieved through reviewing and developing written standards for each level of school. These written standards should maintain the consistency needed within each level of school (elementary, middle, and high) for traffic control devices, signs, and markings. Consistent standards will also allow the traffic engineers the mechanism to defend against a proliferation of devices/signs under the guise of "more is better."

Student Error Identified

The one element of the expanded program which we believe will have the most impact is the education program for the children and their parents. We found that over a three-and-a-half-year period 70 percent of the school zone accidents were attributed to mistakes made by school children. Our efforts will be primarily concentrated on developing a new program aimed specifically at the elementary students. The program will include videos for the classrooms as well as materials for both students and parents. In addition, a full time coordinator and additional staff were added to work directly with the schools and to head a joint School Safety Committee.

Future Impact

While we are certain we will never eliminate all risks to our school children, we believe we have taken some bold new steps to reducing the hazards in partnership with our area’s school districts. Perhaps more importantly, though, we are now able to fund an education program to teach our school children to recognize hazardous situations and avoid them safely. By so doing, we hope this comprehensive, multi-jurisdictional approach to school safety will be sustainable and will leave a legacy for generations to come.

Contact: David Zelenok, Group Support Manager, Public Works, City of Colorado Springs, 719/385-5426.

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