Wednesday, September 29, 2010

LETTER: School Zones, Speed Limits and Crosswalks on Education Hill, By Susan Wilkins

Letter from Susan Wilkins, a PTSA volunteer and resident of Redmond.

I have been working on bus transportation for Horace Mann. I got mail from [LWSD Deputy Superintendent] Janene Fogard that said Title 1 funds could not be used on non-AYP transportation so Horace Mann students were not allowed to ride the Einstein or Redmond El buses. I have been reading Title 1, Part A documentation and there is a lot to read to familiarize myself with the details.

I couldn't find any documents that said or could be interpreted to mean that Horace Mann students weren't allowed to ride in surplus seats on AYP buses. I sent email to Ms. Fogard to ask her to clarify what she meant and where this rule is cited. I haven't heard back.

The attached article came about as a response to [neighbor] Paige Norman questioning the varying speed limits and school zones along 166th at the end of one of my letters. I had read so much about traffic and crosswalks while researching the NE 116th Street crosswalk and speed cameras, that I decided to organize my thoughts and explain what I had found.  I hope people find it interesting: 

"School Zones, Speed Limits and Crosswalks on Education Hill", By Susan Wilkins

We have a lot of schools on Education Hill – a high school, a junior high, five elementary schools and numerous preschools. We also have a variety of street signs and zones surrounding the schools, but there is a lack of uniformity in how the signs and zones are assigned. While going through official documents pertaining to school safety and crosswalks and making observations in the neighborhood, I have found that the implementation of school zones and speed limit signs appears to be uneven, inconsistent, overused and possibly misused on Education Hill.  Read More >>

From carefully reading the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) published by the Federal Highway Administration it appears that cities are allowed to designate speed zones around schools (or playgrounds) that extend up to 300 feet from the school (or playground). The zone has to be consistent with actual school or playground usage. In other words, cities aren’t supposed to just post “School Zone – 20 MPH” signs where they feel like putting them – they have to be within 300 feet of a school or playground – and there has to be an actual risk to students where the school zone is being designated. (RCW 46.61.440 (2)) For example, Alcott Elementary borders Redmond-Fall City Road where the speed limit is 55 mph. There is no “school zone” designated along this road because students are never allowed beyond the school grounds and a fence and some shrubs separate the playground from the road. Furthermore, and this is ambiguous, it appears that cities should designate school and playground zones in their municipal codes. Currently, most cities put up school speed zone signs and then define the school zone based on the location of the sign. This is backwards – traffic studies need to first determine that a school zone is needed, and then the 20 mph school zone signs can be added.

The Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) that most municipalities consult when placing control devices such as signs, crosswalks and traffic lights stresses that safety and effective traffic control is achieved through uniform policies and practices that motorists and pedestrians can understand and follow. As it’s been pointed out, the various speed limits along 166th Avenue NE are confusing and non-standardized. In analyzing speed limits and school zones along 166th Avenue NE and applying rules and principles set out in the MTUCD, RCW and RMC, I came up with the following:

-The speed limit along 166th Avenue NE from NE 83rd Street north to where it ends at NE 111th Street is 30 mph and is set in the Redmond Municipal Code section 10.24.060.

-The Redmond Elementary soccer field borders 166th but is not a school zone because there is a fence separating it from the street so the speed limit north of NE 83rd Street is 30 mph and south of NE 83rd is 25 mph. (Also set in RMC 10.24.060.)

-Faith Lutheran School is on 166th and its play area is fenced and separated from the road by the large parking lot and steep slope. There is no active school use of the roadway along 166th Avenue NE - before, during or after school. Also, the area is not designated as a school zone in the Redmond Municipal Code. It appears that the 20 MPH School Zone signs along 166th Avenue NE at Faith Lutheran School have no basis and should be removed. The speed limit in front of the school should be 30 mph.

-The Redmond Junior High tennis courts border 166th Avenue NE, and, like the soccer field at Redmond Elementary and the playground at Alcott Elementary, they are separated from the road (166th) by a tall fence. There are “School Zone Speed Limit - 20 mph” signs along 166th Avenue NE on the north and south sides of the crosswalk at the 166th & NE 100th Street intersection. It’s not clear why the intersection is designated as a school zone since the pedestrian-activated traffic signal effectively stops traffic in both directions along 166th and the fence separates students from the road. In accordance with RCW 46.61.440 (2), the 20 MPH School Zone signs on 166th Avenue NE at Redmond Junior High should be removed until the City is able to designate the area as a School Zone – based on a traffic engineering study that validly supports that conclusion. (Note that the MUTCD specifically states that it does not automatically or necessarily endorse mandatory reduced speed zones in school zones. (Ch.7 Sec.7A.01.))

-Norman Rockwell Elementary is located west of 166th Avenue NE but posts an adult crossing guard at the corner of 166th & NE 110th Street who helps students get across 166th. There are similar crosswalks staffed by Rockwell adult crossing guards along 160th Avenue NE near Meadow Park. All of these crosswalks are marked as School Zone Crosswalks with 20 mph signs but they are all more than 300 feet from the school. RCW 46.61.440 (2) requires that school zones be within 300 feet from the school. This is also improper signage and the School Zone signs should be removed. The crossing guards are needed, because these roads have heavy traffic and children do not have the judgment to cross safely, but they are not school zones. Note that Rockwell has a number of crosswalks within 300 feet from the school property. These should retain their School Zone – 20 MPH signs where there is active usage by students before and after school, but they should have time limits placed on them (such as 7:30-9:00 AM and 2:30 – 3:30 PM). They should not be designated as “When Children Are Present.”

-All of the “School Zone - Speed Limit 20 MPH” signs have the words “When Children Are Present”. It is generally accepted that children can be present at any time so “When Children Are Present” means ALWAYS. The City needs to consider carefully when it wants to use “When Children Are Present” and thus permanently lower the speed limit at certain stretches of road to 20 mph and then mark it clearly so that all drivers are consistent and in agreement on the maximum speed allowed.

-Only Einstein Elementary has an actual “school zone” designation that was added to the Redmond Municipal Code (10.24.065) in 2000 when NE 116th Street was widened and construction on all the new homes started. The Einstein School Zone is designated to run in front of the school along NE 116th Street from the main driveway west to the crosswalk area and is only supposed to be in effect when the School Zone 20 MPH yellow lights are flashing in the morning and afternoon when school starts and ends. Otherwise, the speed limit on NE 116th Street is 35 mph. (RMC 10.24.060.)

The City needs to study current regulations and codes and then create a consistent set of rules and signs that all drivers and pedestrians can understand and follow. If we all follow the same set of guidelines, then we will have safer streets.

By Susan Wilkins
Parent and PTSA volunteer
Education Hill, Redmond, WA

Read more of Susan Wilkins contributions


Paganne said...

Susan, again, an AWESOME and well researched article. I am so interested in the conclusion to this rather puzzling state...

I'm wondering who at the city will tackle this issue?

Anonymous said...

Slightly related--I would like to see athletes and parents consistently use crosswalks near Hartman Park. There are several crosswalks in that zone, yet, particularly in summer during baseball games, I constantly see athletes and parents crossing the street out of the crosswalk. Parents are setting a bad example and the athletes appear lazy.

Anonymous said...

My son was caught in a "school zone" going to fast and sucessfully fought it in court with the same documentation and the judge even stated that Redmond needed to clean up it school signage.
I know with the "improvements" Redmond has made to the streets I'm choosing to shop elsewhere (like Woodinville). The city has driven Costco from Union Hill and have made it impossible for me to drive my large van down most of the city streets. I guess Woodinville wants my busines.

Anonymous said...

Susan - Can you share more on the work you are doing to establish appropriate bus transportation for Horace Mann students? You have highlighted well the traffic situation on 104th, and the very inefficient way that students in the outlying neighborhoods are driven to school 1-by-1.