School zones are created and maintained in accordance with the national Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) to alert drivers of school safety zones. Chapter 54, Section 1 of Denver’s Revised Municipal Code provides the following definitions:
(59.5) Safety zone shall mean any portion of the street or highway designated as such pursuant to section 54-43(b)(17) of this chapter where traffic signs, traffic control devices, or both are in place to indicate the start and end of the zone, the times that the location is deemed to be a safety zone, and the penalty for a violation within the zone is doubled. Any location where traffic signs, traffic control devices, or both, indicate the area is a “school zone”, shall also be a safety zone.
(61.5) School zone shall mean any portion of the street or highway designated as such by the City Traffic Engineer, where traffic signs, traffic control devices, or both are in place to indicate the start and end of the zone, the times that the location is deemed to be a school zone, and that the penalty for a violation within the zone is doubled.
Traffic Engineering Services installs and maintains traffic signs to notify drivers that they are entering a school safety zone at over 180 public and private school zones in Denver. These signs clearly mark the beginning and end of the school zones and alert drivers that speeding in a school safety zone will result in normal traffic fines being doubled. Posted speed limits within school safety zones will vary depending on roadway design and classification. (See illustration to right)
For schools that offer classes to elementary age students, defined by state law as being students in grades 1 through 5, Denver Traffic Engineering Services typically installs extra signage to reduce the posted speed limit for streets directly adjacent to the school by up to 10 MPH. Reduced school zone speed limits are generally in effect during student arrival and dismissal times.
There are two different but equally enforceable methods used to alert drivers of school zone speed limit reductions. The first method is to use special school zone signs showing the reduced school zone speed limit along with the times of day that the reduced speed limit is in effect. This speed limit reduction notification method is typically used adjacent to schools that are located on lower volume neighborhood streets. The second method is to use special school zone speed limit reduction signs accompanied by large yellow beacons that flash during the times of day when the reduced speed limit is in effect. This speed limit reduction method is typically used adjacent to schools that are located on higher volume arterial streets with a normal posted speed limit of 30 MPH or higher. In Denver, flashing beacons are only used on higher volume arterial streets and only for those public or private schools that offer classes to elementary age students (grades 1 through 5). (See an illustration of the special school zone speed limit reduction sign accompanied by flashing yellow beacons to the right)
For the over 180 school zones that are in Denver, approximately 135 school zones are for schools with elementary age students and include special school zone signs with speed limit reductions. Of the 135 schools that offer classes to elementary age students, there are currently 36 schools located adjacent to higher volume arterial streets that use flashing beacons to alert drivers of a reduced school zone speed limit. As of January 2011, Denver Traffic Engineering Services has installed 83 school zone flashing beacon assemblies, each with an initial installation cost of approximately $15,000. Additional school zone flashing beacon assemblies may be installed in the future, but only for new schools or restructured schools that offer classes to elementary age students and are located on higher volume arterial streets.
It should also be noted that there are a few locations in Denver where the City Traffic Engineer has authorized the installation of safety zones at non-school locations. These special safety zones have been implemented based on the need for increased driver awareness due to unusually high levels of pedestrians crossing the street. It should be noted that the judicious and limited use of safety zones for non-school locations is essential to the effectiveness of this traffic safety treatment. A traffic safety study that examines 1) traffic volume and pedestrian crossing data, 2) vehicle operating speeds, 3) recent accident history, 4) speed enforcement resources, 5) availability of controlled crosswalks, and 6) other special citizen concerns, must be conducted for each potential safety zone location. The City Traffic Engineer shall then determine what level of pedestrian activity and type of special roadway conditions merits the establishment of a safety zone at a non-school location. Since the safety zone designation was created in 1999, only five non-school locations have been established as special pedestrian safety zones. All five locations are adjacent to Denver Parks (Eastmoor Park, Harvey Park, Platt Park, Sloan’s Lake Park, and Washington Park).