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 operation. 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.
"Lake Shore's middle school and high schools share a campus, and there is a long service road between the two," explains Michael Dallessandro, transportation supervisor. "We noticed that at peak times there was a ton of traffic congestion, so we limited the direction of travel - kind of a one-way-in, oneway-out situation so that we didn't have cars and buses competing for the entrances and exits. We also put in a student-only entrance and exit."
Transportation Director Jane Oakley says Fayette County School Corp. has completed two construction projects over the last five years. At each of the two schools, parking lots were enlarged at opposite sides of the buildings for parents to drop off their children. Moreover, an additional parking lot was built at each of the schools for other vehicles. Each of the three lots is separate from the schools' loading zones and features signs and pavement markings to direct traffic.
Establish detailed policies for bus drivers
As exemplified by the incidents at SCPS and MSDWT, of equal importance to separating traffic at school sites is ensuring that school bus drivers follow polices and procedures in loading zones that will keep students out of harm's way.
One common policy among operations is that drivers are not allowed to back their buses in loading zones or anywhere on school property.
In Oregon, this is a statewide policy. Steven Huillet, pupil transportation director at the Oregon DOE, says that backing on school property is prohibited unless there is an adult at the back of the bus (either inside or outside) directing the driver.
A similar policy has been established at Columbia County Schools in Evans, Ga. Transportation Director Dewayne Porter says the drivers are not permitted to back up on school campuses unless it is absolutely necessary, in which case school administrators must assist them.
Meanwhile, at Lewistown (Mont.) Public Schools, Transportation Director Steve Klippenes says backing up is not allowed in loading zones at any time, and under no circumstances.
Rolling V Transportation Services bus drivers in South Fallsburg, N.Y., must follow an equally stringent statewide policy: Company President Phil Vallone says drivers cannot move their buses in a loading zone if students are within 15 feet of them.
Lewistown Public Schools' transportation department also enforces a maximum speed limit of 5 mph in loading zones, and drivers must ensure that all students are seated and check their mirrors thoroughly before they can move the buses to leave.
Being mindful of speed and, more specifically, driving 5 mph or less on school property is something that Baxter feels can improve loading zone safety, because it gives drivers time to respond to pedestrians.
"Drivers should have a designated parking place so that kids aren't wandering around trying to find their buses," he adds.
Fayette County's school bus drivers practice this, and Oakley says the drivers are also required to park their buses chevron-style in the loading zones. (In zones where the layout cannot accommodate buses parked in this position, the drivers park the buses nose to tail.)
Huillet is an advocate for chevron parking, and he encourages operations in his state to use this parking style whenever possible.
"It discourages kids from walking between buses," he says. "Plus, with the buses being as long as they are, it blocks the lane behind them and prevents motorists from driving behind them so that if kids do go between the buses, there's less of a chance that they'll get hit."
For operations that use a route numbering system that varies from the traditional practice of painting the route number on the bus (if, say, operations use animal graphics to represent the routes), Baxter recommends that drivers take down any signs posted in the windows before the buses depart the loading zone.
Columbia County Schools' transportation department has adopted a similar policy and taken it one step further. "We don't allow any signs to be posted in the buses," Porter says. "If the schools want to post signs or logos to help students remember which buses they are supposed to load, we prefer them to use magnetic signs that can be posted on the outside of the bus because signs in the window can block the driver's vision."
Lake Shore Central School District and Phoenix-based Bee Line Bus Transportation LLC have also implemented effective policies to bolster loading zone safety. At Lake Shore, drivers must turn the bus radios down so that they don't become distracted, they must watch the buses in front of and behind them and they must leave enough space in the bus line-up for the emergency exits to be opened if necessary, according to Dallessandro.
Bee Line Bus General Manager Kathy Roadlander says that before drivers can leave the zones in the afternoons, they must do a curb check and communicate with one another via their two-way radios to ensure that all students have boarded. The bus doors are then shut, and only school administrators are authorized to open the doors if necessary.
"At one school that we serve, the drivers are not permitted to close the bus doors and leave after students have unloaded until the school opens its doors," Roadlander adds. "That way, all of the children are supervised as they enter the building."