School buses operating within the city will continue their practice of not using flashing lights and stop arms.

The decision comes after an Oct. 10 report was delivered to the City of Grande Prairie’s Public & Protective Services Committee. 

The city bylaw only allows flashing lights and stop arms at bus stops where there is no sidewalk or curb, or the speed limit is greater than 80 km/h.

“There’s been a lot of debate back and forth,” said Ross Gear, Grande Prairie Enforcement Services sergeant. 

The decision maintain the status quo with the bylaw comes after city administration met with stakeholders, including local school boards, Student First (which operates the school busses in the city), RCMP and the city’s traffic engineer. 

A city report says various reports and studies conducted by multiple cities and school divisions across the province were also referenced. 

“Both (options) have some merit, but when we looked at a very broad range of reports from other places, they all seem to be very consistent; although there is some risk, the risk is very low,” said Gear. 

Troy Smith, a former school bus driver in Ontario, presented to city council in April, saying he believes flashing lights should be used within the city. 

Smith said he was “surprised to see no stop arm or flashing lights” when he was picking up his children at the bus stop.

He said he has also driven commercially across the country and the U.S., and a school bus with flashing lights and stop sign universally means motorists must stop. 

“I think that this bylaw is highly disregarding the due diligence of the safety of the children,” said Smith at the April meeting.

Chief Public and Protective Services Officer Dan Lemieux noted a report from 2016 that said Western Canada is divided on the use of the lights/stop arm, noting many municipalities in Alberta and Saskatchewan do not allow their use. 

According to Lemieux, the report says that by not using flashing lights and stop arms, children are encouraged to use official crosswalks and controlled intersections. He said flashing lights and stop arms could create a hazard when vehicles do not stop while children cross mid-block. 

Provincial and municipal laws regulate school bus safety.

The current city report states the advantages of flashing lights and stop arms include enhanced safety, increased visibility, traffic control, consistency and familiarity. The report also suggests disadvantages include a lack of motorists compliance, a false sense of safety to pedestrians, traffic congestion and increased travel time for motorists.

“I hear residents say (the city) don’t allow this because they’re worried about traffic congestion, and I know for me, I’d be very surprised if there’s any member of council who was saying ‘I’m not okay adding 60 seconds to somebody’s commute to keep kids safe,’ ” said Coun. Dylan Bressey. 

The report indicates that the Grande Prairie Public School Division (GPPSD) remains neutral on the issue.

In the report, Peace Wapiti School Division’s (PWPSD) concern is that their use may cause confusion for motorists as to when they can pass a school bus in the county compared to the city. 

PWPSD school busses are equipped with red light cameras. The report states that infractions come from larger rural subdivisions where residents think they can pass a bus with flashing red lights.

In 2022, about nine cases involving school buses were reported to the County of Grande Prairie Enforcement Services, resulting in five charges.

The report notes the practice of using flashing red lights and stop arms stems from an intended use on rural roads. 

“This is because rural roads usually have higher speed limits, with no curbs, gutters,

stop signs, signals, crosswalks, or other traffic control devices to properly assist pedestrians in

crossing the road,” says the report. 

“In the rural application, the use of flashing red lights is extremely effective with increasing pedestrian safety.”

First Student, which operates school buses for GPPSD and Grande Prairie and District Catholic School Division, said it would support changing the bylaw to allow the use of flashing lights and stop arms.

“First Student is of the opinion that students could be taught to cross safely in front of the bus while the lights and stop arms are deployed,” says the city report. 

“First Student considers that school buses have safety equipment which should be used.” 

The report also notes that First Student believes motorists would become accustomed to the new regulation if they were required to stop. 

The report indicates that the city traffic engineer provided studies conducted from across North America, saying “flashing red lights and stop arms provide a false sense of security for pedestrians.”

“Motorists do not always follow traffic control devices as demonstrated by the 2,500 collisions per year in the city, caused by motorists failing to follow traffic signs.”

According to the report, all stakeholders in the meeting agreed that strict enforcement of traffic bylaws with increased penalties should be used to serve as deterrents for motorists who pass flashing red lights and stop arms. 

By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Oct 19, 2023 at 11:13

This item reprinted with permission from   Town & Country News   Beaverlodge, Alberta

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