School zone traffic chaos remains an intractable issue


Last updated on May 18, 23

Posted on May 18, 23

2 min read

Anyone in the vicinity of a school just prior to the morning bell and after the last bell of the day knows full well that chaos is the norm. Some locations are worse than others, of course, but there’s always a convergence and something of a scramble.

That’s not a problem contained to the school property, however. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the traffic and parking woes typically spill out onto municipal roads. While Woolwich is now dealing with issues around St. Boniface school in Breslau, the problem is not unique. The township reports issues such as parents parking their cars in front of driveways are found at other schools, too.

In newer neighbourhoods, parking issues are undoubtedly worsened by the small lots that severely restrict on-street parking, for instance. In this case, the school is located in an evolving community where the construction of new houses is ongoing, meaning traffic flows are in flux. That adds an extra layer of complexity as the township looks to the likes of speed limits, parking restrictions and the placement of stop signs.

St. Boniface has a kiss-and-drop area, but does not use it. A reconfiguration of the site is in the works, and Woolwich will be looking for the school to provide more space to ease the current traffic bottlenecks. Other concerns such as speeding are another matter, though the township has an uphill battle in convincing those calling for action that the problem is typically one of perception, not actual speeding.

At times, the traffic woes seem intractable. That’s because at a fundamental level the problem stems from parents driving their kids to school instead of letting them walk, cycle, board or use other alternatives, even when those choices would be faster, safer, better for the environment and for the health of their children. School officials know this, which is why they encourage participation in so-called active transportation programs.

The benefits are clear. We all know we need to increase daily physical activity, improve the safety of our communities, reduce traffic congestion around schools, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create communities where people choose to walk. Knowing is one thing. Putting it into action is another.

Debates are ongoing about the advisability of parents driving their children to school.

Increasingly, students who aren’t bused travel to and from school in their parents’ cars, rather than walking or bicycling. While previous generations may not have walked to school barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways, kids did get there under their own steam much more frequently than is the case today.

Concerned about obesity and falling fitness levels, authorities have been encouraging kids to travel under their own steam. In Waterloo Region, the public health department promotes the practice, and planners pay more attention to safe school routes.

From an environmental perspective, every car trip avoided results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions. And keeping the car away from schools is also much safer: accident statistics show school zones have become one of the most dangerous places in our communities. Families that would like to walk opt to take the car because they don’t want to become another pedestrian statistic.

We’ve become so dependent on driving to school that the ‘school run’ accounts for 25 to 30 per cent of morning rush hour trips.

The goal is to deal with congestion to increase the safety of kids going to and from school. But measures taken to date have not been effective, in part because some parents remain uncooperative, even heaping abuse on officials attempting to bring order to the drop-off areas.

As human nature is unlikely to change in the near-term, schools will have to do a better job of accommodating the situation as it is, not how they’d like it to be.

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