Open Letter to Ms. Sandra McKenzie: LMST Drop-off Loop Puts Young Children at Risk

(Update: As described the March 2018 article titled LMST Open Space and School Construction,  a favorable decision was made in late 2017 regarding providing a pedestrian-oriented site design and construction moved ahead in the Spring of 2018.)

To: Ms. Sandra McKenzie, Deputy Minister, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development

Dear Ms. McKenzie-

I am writing to express concern that the drop-off loop planned for LMST creates hazardous and unhealthy conditions for school children. Recently, the Department of Education and Childhood Development and the Halifax Regional School Board advocated for and approved a plan that does not abide by the health and safety guidelines specified by the Canadian Institute of Transportation Engineers and other professional and non-governmental organizations. Additionally, the site plan is inconsistent with recommendations published in the Journal of Traffic Injury Prevention.

As the father of a child who attends LMST, I am asking for a thoughtful response to three legitimate questions asked below.  

1. What are your plans to deal with the aftermath of any accidents involving children and vehicles entering and existing the drop-off loop? Keep in mind: LMST is one of a handful of “walking schools” left in Nova Scotia, and that more than 260 LMST students walk to school. Twice a day, my own daughter will be passing through the collision zone shown above. All it takes is single driver crossing the sidewalk exhibiting dangerous, distracted behavior and a child could pay an unacceptably heavy price. Given the concerns illustrated above, who should be liable, the driver,  HRSB, or the province?

The site plan creates precisely the kind of child pedestrian motor vehicle collision zone the Canadian Institute of Traffic Engineers (Canadian ITE) seeks to avoid through appropriate site design. Taken as a whole, the ITE publication titled, “Promoting Sustainable Transportation through Site Design”, supports the relevance of pedestrian-oriented site design.  

Within this document, I would like to draw your attention to Section 3.4.2 (Passenger Pickup and Drop-off Areas) which states the following: 

“Ensure vehicle circulation routes to and from pickup and drop-off areas do not pass in front of main entrances and where possible do not cross major sidewalks or other pedestrian facilities.”

As shown in the illustration below, the  drop-off loop violates this recommendation by creating a continuous area of conflict between children and motor vehicles.

2. Can you provide evidence to support the claim that a loop will reduce congestion in our urban context? You have claimed that this new automobile-centric infrastructure—in the form of a traffic/drop-off loop in front of the school will “calm traffic” on adjacent streets.  To date no-one has provided evidence to support such a claim.

This visible piece of infrastructure will, in fact, induce traffic demand.  Principles of induced traffic demand are well understood and documented. Similar to widening a road, the loop is a visible piece of infrastructure that will serve as a magnet for parents who might not otherwise drive. Keeping in mind, this is one of Halifax’s best examples of a “walking school” in the middle of a pedestrian-oriented community, we  should be encouraging more walking to school – not less.

There is no infrastructure solution for traffic congestion in this kind of urban context. In walkable urban environments, reducing congestion can be achieved only by altering the modal split through active transportation and improved public transport.   

3. Why have you chosen a site plan that works against providing a healthy and welcoming space front of the school where children and parents alike can play, gather, and enjoy fresh air before and after school?

The Canadian Medical Association Journal speaks to a growing body of epidemiological evidence linking car exhaust and the development of asthma and cardiovascular disease in children.  Car exhaust—which is laden with NO2 (nitric oxide) and other chemicals—is particularly damaging to young lungs.  A UK-based study examined 1,700 children over four years and found that pollutants from cars significantly impact a child’s health by reducing the size and strength of their lungs.

I assume we'd agree that children at the school have a right to breath clean air. Unfortunately, the site plan undermines this right by encouraging increasing numbers of parents to drive rather than opt for active transportation.

As shown below, the drop-off loop will encourage the parents of ~120 students to bring their vehicles in close proximity to the ~260 students who arrive by foot each day. Regardless of whether the loop runs efficiently (i.e. heavy throughput) or inefficiently (i.e., excessive idling), concentrations of NO2 and other particulate matter will remain high throughout the period when children are in front of the school. 

In other jurisdictions, we see the provincial government partnering with school districts to reduce the number of parents driving in urban areas with well thought out active transportation planning.  The Province of Ontario and the Toronto District School Board provide one of several visible examples of leadership focusing on student safety and health through active transportation planning and implementation.  

Thank you for the taking the time to review these concerns.  It is my sincere hope that you and HRSB understand that the responsible course of action is to reduce congestion with an active transportation program and accommodate parents who actually must drive with defined drop off areas (different than the loop) in suitable locations.  I look forward to your response.

Patrick Moan