In the last installment (STN, Jun, 2007), I stressed the importance of distinguishing between an actual bus stop and the waiting area across the street from it in terms of safety. But the selection of the stop and waiting area also involves concerns for student security. Sometimes, there are trade-offs that must be made. These trade-off are often complex and subtle. But they must be made correctly.
In those rare instances where the safety of transportation modes can be compared statistically, bus riders fare several decimal points better than bicycle riders. The risks associated with motorcycles are "off the charts." The Figure below illustrates these comparisons for "home-to-school" trips - trips that comprise 15 percent of all transit trips and 96 percent of all schoolbus trips.
Every responsible society has mechanisms to hold its citizens, and their organizations, accountable for their actions. With respect to safety, our society effects this goal through the enactment and enforcement of statutes and regulations, and through the process of civil litigation. As with most rules and most societies, many of our transportation organizations have discovered loopholes. Employing these loopholes, they have effectively reduced their liability exposure at the cost of compromising safety.
Unlike those of many transit systems, schoolbus stops are not always identified with signage - at either the precise position of the stop or signage indicating that a schoolbus stop is approaching (the black glyph on yellow background). Rarely is the stop zone itself marked (for example, by red-lining the curb). In particular, the failure to mark the stop's precise positioning can be problematic - and occasionally dangerous.
As pressure from the unknowing continues to mount, rumors have it that the U.S. motorcoach industry is slowly inching toward the installation of seatbelts. That we are doing so by skipping the decades of seat compartmentalization that has helped fend off most seatbelt advocates in the schoolbus industry is only more unfortunate since existing motorcoach seats lend themselves to a far more evolved form of compartmentalization than the "incomplete compartmentalization" (in NHTSA's own words) of their yellow body-on-chassis cousins.
Question: What is the difference between a poorly-selected and -designed bus stop and a land mine? Answer: Very little. When you step on either of them, your ankles, knees and hips are likely to explode. The genuine difference is that the carnage from land mines is intentional, whereas that of poorly-selected and -designed bus stops usually reflects incompetence and, often, indifference.
In rural areas, children spaced far apart were once transported to school by horse and wagon. After the first day of school, the horses learned the routes and simply repeated them day after day, eliminating the need for drivers. The vehicles were cheap, and the engines ran effectively on oats. As our nation changed, pupil transportation's development reflected our increasing urbanization and, later, suburbanization. These developments included a new phenomenon known as traffic. As a safety matter, the need for pupil transportation grew to reflect a child's inability to cross streets or negotiate intersections, as verified by studies like the 1968 Swedish study "Children in Traffic." In simple terms, children below age 13, and particularly below age 10, do not possess the physical, mental and emotional skills necessary to cross streets and intersections.
At the 1981 ITE Annual Meeting in Boston a seminar was convened on the role of the urban traffic engineer. It featured some of outstanding veterans of the profession, and each offered their insights on the role of the urban traffic engineer. Speakers included Bill VanGelder from Seattle, Harold Michael from Purdue, and Bill Mc Grath who was once the Traffic Commissioner for the City of Boston.
I have often written about the impacts of overly-tight schedules as the primary causative factor in incidents - in fact, the underlying cause of perhaps half of them. Because speeding is one of the "cures" to this problem, one of its characteristics is the failure to slow down when the roadway surface is not, as jazz musicians say, "melody." One of the most common scenarios is to cruise over speed bumps and speed humps. Another is to fail to slow over rugged terrain, particularly potholes and the often dysfunctional patches that sloppy road crews create to "repair" them.