Case Study of Traffic Circulation and Parking By Alyssa Reynolds

This is a guest post by Alyssa Reynolds.

Alyssa Reynolds PE, PTOE

Alyssa Reynolds is the President of the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ Western District, which includes the 13 western states and US Pacific territories. She is a Project Engineer with the City of Henderson, Nevada. She is a licensed Professional Engineer and Professional Traffic Operations Engineer. 

Case Study of Traffic Circulation and Parking around Greenspun Middle School
By Alyssa Reynolds, PE PTOE

I was recently asked to look at the traffic circulation and parking situation at a local school, Greenspun Middle School. The impetus of the parent concerns was the removal of a volunteer crossing guard from the crosswalk in front of the school.  In Henderson, the City’s police department hires, trains, and assigns crossing guards to Elementary Schools.  They are not provided at middle and high schools.  I’ve heard various reasons for this ranging from: kids of this age should know how to cross the street safely to the kids refuse to obey the crossing guard.  There is also an additional expense to adding guards at the upper level schools.  The school removed the volunteer guard due to liability concerns.

Greenspun CampusI attended a meeting with school officials, school and local police, parents, and a local advocacy group.  Each voiced his/her concerns about the situation and offered suggestions.  A primary suggestion was to force parents to turn right when exiting school grounds.  Currently, both left and right turns are permitted.  Parent volunteers expressed concerns about this due to the likely backups on-site, but the school police and administrators decided to give it a try.  The following week, I observed the school’s morning traffic under this configuration and the afternoon traffic under free conditions.  The following are my observations:

  • Approximately 180 parents use the on-site circulation to pick up their students in the afternoon.  The rest park and wait for their children.
  • In the morning about 3-4 times as many parents use the on-site circulation to drop off their children.
  • The right-turn only egress pattern did create some backups on-site.  Some of this was due to artificial metering by the parent volunteers and the ad-hoc set up used to block the left turn lane.  With the proper traffic control, the circulation would work better.   However, there did appear to be enough gaps to permit left turns without much trouble.  They operated without issue in the afternoon.
  • The ingressing left turns experienced the most delay and queuing.  There simply weren’t sufficient gaps to allow left turning vehicles access on a regular bases.  Interestingly, the crossing guard, in addition to crossing the children safely, had served as a gap-creating measure that improved traffic flow.  When the guard stopped traffic it created space that left turning vehicles could use to enter the site.
  • On-street parking is provided on both sides of the street adjacent to the school and is heavily used in the afternoon.  The majority of the parents and students used the crosswalk to access the opposite side of the street.  There were only a few jaywalkers.
  • Without a crossing guard, the students tend to stream across the crosswalk.  This creates frustration for the drivers.
Greenspun Mitigation Options

The Traffic Division determined the following options for addressing the pedestrian crossing and site circulation issues, which are listed below in order of increasing cost and complexity. In addition, combinations of these options are possible. For instance, the road diet could be combined with the pedestrian refuge island. The bulb-outs could be combined with the crosswalk relocation.

After considering the situation, our department determined the following options listed in increasing cost and complexity:

  • Add bulb-outs to the crosswalk
  • Move the crosswalk and create a right turn lane into the school.  Prohibit left turns at the school entrance.
  • Restripe the lanes near the crosswalk to create space for a pedestrian refuge island.
  • Put the roadway on a diet and add a two-way left turn lane.  This would provide queuing space for the left turning vehicles.  It could also be combined with the pedestrian refuge island.

Each of these options has its pros and cons.  The bulb-outs and pedestrian refuge island shorten the crossing distance for the students, but they don’t address the need for gaps in the traffic to allow the students to cross and the steady stream of students.  The additional right turn lane would help parents access the school but might create longer queues at the adjacent signal.  Also, moving the crosswalk would create an additional conflict point between pedestrians and vehicles on-site.  The current location allows students to stay out of the on-site circulation. Lastly, the road diet would create space for the left turning vehicles, but it wouldn’t guarantee them a gap to perform their turns.

After examining the situation extensively, it may be that having the crossing guard in place is the best solution.  A guard establishes positive control of the crosswalk so students can cross.  S/he forces the students to cross in groups rather than a stream, and it creates that break in traffic the vehicles need.  This, however, is easier said than done.

What are your thoughts?  Can you think of other solutions for the traffic and pedestrian circulation?  Should we even be considering capital improvements, when much of the traffic congestion could be alleviated by greater numbers of walking and biking students?  What could the parents be doing in this situation?  What should the school police do?

Thanks for inviting me to post on your blog!  I look forward to your comments and suggestions.

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