Pedestrians and motorists navigating the heavy traffic around Pinellas County schools in the mornings and afternoons encounter a hodgepodge of rules, signs and speed limits. It isn't a situation conducive to safety, and finally, someone is addressing the problem.
The Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization, a transportation planning board made up of public officials from throughout the county, heard some concerns about safety in school zones. So the board asked for data about how various government jurisdictions handle traffic control in their school zones.
What came back was even worse than expected. At some Pinellas schools, there are traffic signals. At others, there may be just a flashing light or no light at all. Some zones have a 15 mph speed limit, while others have no reduction in the speed limit. Some zones are marked by orange traffic cones, but not permanent signs. Signs and pavement markings vary in type, size and location.
The lack of consistency makes it more likely that motorists will miss or ignore the school zone or be confused about the legal speed. And that makes for an even more hazardous situation for students walking or riding their bikes to and from school.
After getting the data, the MPO asked its School Transportation Safety Committee to find a solution. The committee's answer, now being circulated to Pinellas local governments, is called the Countywide School Zone Improvement Program, and it aims to make school zone rules and signage consistent at public and private schools throughout Pinellas.
Unfortunately, the program does not apply to school zones on state roads, but the Florida Department of Transportation should talk to the MPO and figure out a way to participate. This is about the safety of children, and they are at risk on state roads as well.
The program calls for the following at every school zone:
• A reduced speed limit.
• Solar-powered or low energy flashers located on permanently mounted school zone signs.
• Inspection of signs and pavement markings by the local jurisdiction to find and correct inadequacies and remove unnecessary sign clutter.
• Colocated "End of School Zone" and speed limit signs.
The MPO is asking the cities, County Commission and School Board to pass resolutions in support of the program and then to quickly get to work on the improvements, since school starts this month. The local governments will have to use their own crews to do the work and absorb the cost of the equipment. The city of Dunedin, for example, conducted a survey of the 14 public and private schools within its boundaries and found great variation in the pavement markings and signage. Improving the 14 zones to meet the standards of the MPO program will cost the city about $74,000, but Dunedin commissioners were unanimous in their agreement to take part.
Even though local governments are pinched for cash these days, that is a pittance when it buys a safer trip to school for children and motorists.