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10 School Site Circulation Safeguards

Robert Lingenfelter, AICP, PLA, LEED AP

Did you ride the bus to school or walk?  Was it easy and did you feel safe?  How long did it take? Safe and timely school arrivals and departures are important. The first or last few minutes at school can set the tone for the rest of the day.

The primary school site circulation drivers are buses, cars, bikes and people. Bus arrival and departure staging is critical to safe loading and unloading. Cars include students, parents and staff, which need drop-offs, pick-ups and separate parking areas. Bicycles and pedestrians need accommodations too. Don't forget accessibility, it is more than a law, it is about equity.

Circulation safeguards involve the generally accepted four “E's”: Engineering, Education, Encouragement, and Enforcement. These strategies such as maps, carpooling, and monitoring will vary. Yet there are some simple engineering rules of thumb that transcend all sites. Here are 10 Circulation and Separation Ideas to help reduce physical conflicts, and control risk, followed by some thumbnail sketches:

  1. Provide counter clockwise travel through car drop-off, pick-up and bus loading areas. It affords direct entry and exit from the vehicle to the building
  2. Use right turns for exiting vehicles. Reduce left turns to limit cutting across traffic lanes. Create turning lanes if necessary
  3. Give way to through traffic. Use center lanes for waiting cars. Consider temporary street closures and one-ways at different times during the day
  4. Manage quantity of pick-ups and drop-offs. Consider queuing off site to reduce congestion on site
  5. Avoid double stacked lanes. People should not have to walk between cars
  6. Keep intersections, crosswalks and sidewalks clear. Use crossing guards if adequate space is not available
  7. Enhance pedestrian and bike flow. Provide a pedestrian access route or PAR, which is a continuous barrier free walkway within a pedestrian circulation system. A PAR may include parking access aisles, curb ramps, crosswalks, sidewalks, and ramps
  8. Separate parking, drop-off and pick-up, and bus loading areas. Prevent the use of parking and bus areas by parents so they don’t bypass drop off and pick up areas. Where separation is not possible, use traffic control devises such as cones and signage
  9. Sort people and cars. Combine pedestrian barriers (fences, planters, etc.) to encourage movement along desired pathways
  10. Add curbs to create a vertical edge that contains cars and widen sidewalks to buffer cars from people. Strip curbs with standard paint colors to delineate zones and intended uses. Red for no parking, yellow for loading and unloading, and green for temporary uses
Bus Plaza

Bethel Park High School | Bus Plaza loading and unloading configurations to help reduce physical conflicts, control risk and save time. Single-Lane Chevron on the left and Single-File on the right.

Consider combining ideas to save time. Shave 15 minutes off morning drop-offs and afternoon pick-ups, and save approximately 30 minutes a day, 2.5 hours a week, or 10 hours a month. That adds up to over 2 work weeks in a 9-month school year!

All schools have circulation needs. New school projects have less restrictions than renovation projects. In the case of the latter, there is always room for improvements. How can you improve school arrivals and departures on your site?