Traffic Q&A: Tacoma hopes to add more school-zone lights

Staff writerApril 13, 2014 

Question: I have a question about traffic speeds in school zones.

How does the City of Tacoma decide where to put signs with flashing lights at school crossings – the ones that say, “School. Speed Limit 20 When Flashing” – and where to use signs that make you slow to 20 mph all day?

There doesn’t seem to be a consistent pattern to it.

For example, the signs on North Stevens near Jefferson Elementary School have flashing lights that reduce traffic speed only for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon.

But on North I Street, where I live and which is just as heavily traveled as Stevens, there are no lights near Lowell Elementary School, just 20 mph signs, which almost nobody obeys.

I could understand it if the Lowell playground was level with I Street, but that playground is six feet or more lower than the street level. It just doesn’t seem correct to have it 20 mph all day long.

– Donna, Tacoma

Answer: Your impression is correct: There isn’t a consistent pattern. City officials say installation of the flashing school zone beacons is a work in progress and agree that more are needed.

The city began adding the flashing signs to school zone signs in 1999, according to City Traffic Engineer Joshua Diekmann, because the flashing lights had been shown to improve safety within school speed zones.

“As of spring 2014, the city has installed flashing beacons at 64 school zones,” Diekmann said. “Because funding for school zone upgrades is limited, the city worked with the school district to develop a prioritization plan for future improvements.”

Diekmann said 46 school zones are on the priority list, which focuses on arterial streets.

Within that list, he said, priority is based on the grade level of students using the crosswalks and on street and traffic conditions, such as visibility, vehicular volume and speed.

Diekmann urged anyone with questions about the city’s school speed zones to contact the Traffic Engineering Section of Public Works at 253-591-5500.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693

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