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New & Improved School Zones for Tacoma Schools?
Changes could be coming to the way Tacoma measures its school zones. A discussion at last week’s City Council Committee of the Whole meeting came in response to a request by Councilmember Thoms for staff to do research and bring recommendations on possible enhancements to the City’s School Speed Zone Policy, with the goal of creating safer walking routes around schools.
The State of Washington requires a walking plan be in place for students in a one mile radius (as the crow flies) around every elementary school, and that there be a marked school zone with a 20 mph speed limit, but it does give cities a little flexibility in how they handle that school zone. Councilmember Thoms has asked City staff to look at ways to take advantage of that flexibility to enhance safety by addressing the realities on the ground.
The existing policy in Tacoma has been to measure the school zone, and its associated 20 mph limit, from the school crosswalk. This can mean in some situations that the school zone begins and ends seemingly arbitrarily, sometimes alongside a playground or other portion of school property. Another alternative would be for Tacoma to shift and measure its school zones from the “active use area” of the school. This could include playgrounds, parking lots, and other parts of school grounds used by children, as well as the primary school crosswalk.
It’s only in early phases, but the proposal that staff came up with would shift Tacoma’s focus to implement these more pragmatic school zones for Tacoma’s elementary schools in a phased approach. Phase 1 would include four schools, which would only need signage changes and the relocation of solar powered beacons. Phase 2 would make changes at three more schools that would only need minor changes like relocated signage. Staff felt that the first two phases could be accomplished with existing staff and resources in the near term. The remaining nine elementary schools would be significantly larger projects, requiring the relocation of hardwired crossing beacons, and costing more in time and resources.
It seems to make sense to include a school playground in a school zone… Are we missing anything?
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