Back-to-school safety: yellow buses, active transportation, and speed limits

Ray Charabaty

Have you noticed your morning commute changing over the past few weeks? Every September, as students head back to school, the number of transit and car passengers goes up. Luckily, there are many safe and healthy ways for students and teachers to get to school this fall that take advantage of integrated urban mobility. 

Students who cycle now have the option of biking to subway stations in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Students may take their bikes with them onboard buses and trains, or can opt to lock them up at bike shelters and bike racks nearby. Bicycle slides are also becoming available, so cyclists don’t have to take the risk of carrying their bicycles down long stairways to get to the subway trains. The STM (Société de transport de Montréal) has launched a guide on how to use the bicycle slides installed in their subway stations.  

Many schools are now accessible via bike lanes to ensure the safety of young bikers. Wearing a helmet is required by law for anyone aged under 18 anywhere in Canada with the exception of Quebec, Saskatchewan, and the Territories, which state that helmets are essential nonetheless. The Government of Ontario has put together a Young Cyclist’s Guide to biking which is a great way to introduce children to proper biking etiquette for safe riding to school. Commuters of all types who are simply passing by school premises are encouraged to slow down and be careful around crosswalks near schools. 

While many parents complain of long wait times at the drop-off line in crowded schools, the answer may not be improved drop-off efficiency as much as it may be proper transit planning for students taking public transit to school. 

“Some of the concepts Tepfer recommends include separate car loading areas from bus and parking areas, working with local transportation planners to arrange public transit to relieve congestion, having active staffing in the drop-off areas, and strict rule enforcement.” -  Zachary Stieber, The Epoch Times 

School commuters coming in from farther or more difficult locations may be able to use subsidized ride-sharing services (like Uber in InnisfilTransCab in Sudbury) or on-demand transit services (such as OnDemand in Airdie) to get to nearby transit stations and bus stops. Transit agencies across Canada are also proponents of active and integrated transportation. In Ontario, Metrolinx is a sponsor of Ontario Active School Travel which has named October as Walk-to-School Month. According to Ontario Active School Travel, activities such as walking and biking to school help school-aged children to meet the goal of at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity. 

With the school year well underway, school buses are now on the road and school zone speed limits are back in effect. Drivers must be aware of the rules for speed limits and for stopping around school buses. Many school zones across Canada have lowered their speed limits to 40 km/h (Ontario) and 30 km/h (Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Quebec.) Police advise those who are unsure of the exact speed limit to take initiative and drive more slowly near schools. Roads that lack a median (physical barrier separating incoming and outgoing traffic) require drivers to stop for a stopped school bus with flashing red lights at a safe distance (20 metres in Ontario and Nova Scotia, 5 metres in Quebec and Manitoba). Fines for illegally passing a school bus or failing to adhere to stopping rules can be up to $ 600 in Manitoba, and $400-2000 in Ontario, including possible demerit points. Speeding in school zones is also punishable by fines as well as demerit points. 

Happy back-to-school and have a safe commute! 

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