While 70 percent of parents surveyed found both parking and set-down 'difficult', the most alarming result was the perception of safety, or lack of it, around ACT public schools. Nearly two-thirds of respondents say their school car parks and set-down areas are unsafe to some degree. Between 10 and 50 percent of parents believe these areas are 'very unsafe', depending on the school.
Half of Wanniassa Hills Primary parents surveyed rated roads as 'very unsafe'. "It's chaotic," said their P&C President Greg Hall. "There is nowhere to drop-off and only enough car parks for staff so parents double park, triple park or park illegally. There's such a crowd of cars, the kids can't see to cross safely."
Alarmingly, most parents (70%) have themselves witnessed an accident or near miss around their school, with half of those surveyed having done so more than once.
"Clearly, Council is very concerned about the results," said Council President Viv Pearce. "They confirm what we have suspected for some time – that a clear strategy is needed to address these concerns and that student safety is in jeopardy."
"Parents express a deal of frustration around this issue. And there is a great deal of concern. Parents are pleading for solutions to be found – before another child is hurt or killed."
One parent at Gordon Primary School describes the traffic as "bedlam". "It's horrific," she told Council, "some areas are not safe at all. School speed zones and crossing are not respected, people park illegally and dangerously. The school and P&C, the principal and deputy are doing all they can. I have raised the issues with politicians and government departments but their response was a real cop-out. Nothing has been done."
"There is a lot of goodwill from parents and school staff to address these problems," said Ms Pearce, "but the ACT Government needs to allocate resources and provide a tool-kit of solutions which schools can employ for their particular traffic issues."
Council has submitted a range of suggestions to improve school traffic to the ACT Government as part of the budget consultation process.
"We are calling on the ACT Government to view school road safety as an issue requiring a whole of government response – a co-ordinated approach from ETD (Education and Training), TAMS (Territory and Municipal Services) and Health. Accordingly, we call for a Ministerial Taskforce, made up of key stakeholders, to be appointed to address the difficulties and dangers our survey has highlighted. We would also like to see specific funding for making roads around schools safer," said Ms Pearce.
Council has also asked the ACT Government to conduct more research, focussing on traffic management and road safety around schools so that the best solutions can be found. Funding was also requested for a volunteer-based walking-school-bus program.
"Part of the issue which cannot be overlooked is that around two-thirds of students are getting to school by car. Better bus services and programs which help motivate walking and riding to school are part of the solution. This includes improving pedestrian safety around schools."
The most commonly requested change from surveyed parents was for more parking. The lack of parking is deterring some parents from attending school events, engaging with the school, and even from volunteering.
Parents at Miles Franklin Primary School describe parking at the school as 'woefully inadequate'. "There are 500 students and 47 staff at the school, but only 75 parking spaces." said Allison Reid, P&C President of the school. "We also need space for staff employed by the P&C for services like Out of School Care and the canteen."
"The P&C and school staff try to encourage people to walk and ride to school as an alternative. We would also like to encourage parents to look at alternative places to park where students then walk the remaining distance to school – a kind of "park and walk" system. However, due to liability issues in suggesting locations, we are still waiting on the go-ahead to promote this idea. This is something that could be promoted by the Department for all schools, not just for ours," said Ms Reid.
"I would also like to see the ACT Government partner with an organisation like the NRMA for a well-publicised driver-behaviour awareness program specifically focusing on school zones and school car parks," she said.
"But our biggest problem is with the drop-off and pick-up zone which is currently part of the car park. The space is tiny and often drivers don't obey the signs, meaning the whole traffic flow is interrupted and causes aggravation. We need a separate, specific area for pick-up and drop-off to improve the traffic flow and increase safety. In the meantime we would like to see this area supervised by a traffic warden with the authority to move drivers on so that parents do not park in these areas," Ms Reid said.
The survey results show that schools need better pick-up and set-down areas. "In some cases, roads need to be changed and pull-off bays added, but supervision is also called for. This would require staff to be allocated, or a program which involves volunteers or senior students. Good examples already exist in other cities which could be used here," said Ms Pearce.
Surveyed parents reported dangers around school crossings, saying some are unclear, parked over, misunderstood or ignored. Around half of those surveyed called for improvements.
"We believe there is a need to make the crossings much more visible," said Patrick Daley, P&C Vice President at Garran Primary. "There is also an urgent need for additional signage to make drivers aware that they are approaching the school crossings, the need for speed bumps before the crossings to slow cars down, and barriers or roadside fencing that make it impossible for parents to park in the 'no parking' areas near the crossings."
"A new School Traffic Taskforce together with various government departments need to sit down with representatives from each school and work through solutions to their traffic issues on a school-by-school basis," Ms Pearce said. "There really is no other choice when it comes to the safety of our children."
"Unfortunately, instead of learning from current difficulties, we see the mistakes being repeated in new schools. Council representatives involved with the planning group for the new Coombes Primary were very disappointed to see poorly planned parking and drop-off facilities. Our representatives pointed out these flaws, but they have not yet been re-designed," she said. "We have the information now to feed into design and get this right. Why is it ignored?"
You can read the results of the traffic survey. Thanks to all who filled in the survey. The response (over 1100 public school parents) was amazing.
This article appeared in ParentACTion, Term 4, 2014. See other past editions of our quarterly magazine.