Student silhouettes: A quick way to slow drivers who blaze through school zones

In a move to slow down lead-footed drivers in school zones, the city is using 'student silhouettes' which feature life-sized photos of real children.

Signs that feature life-sized photos of kids are the latest traffic-calming measure

The city of London has sets of these 'student silhouettes' traffic signs that feature life-sized photos of kids. The silhouettes are a new way to remind drivers to slow down in school zones. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

For Thea Close — a parent of two students at Emily Carr Public School in northwest London — the fast-moving traffic was a concern. 

She and other parents noticed drivers darting by at 60 km/h on the streets that serve the school west of Wonderland Road North near Gainsborough. Two years ago, Close and other parents got active in a school travel planning committee. Its goal: To get more kids walking and riding to school. But first it required a hard look at making the streets around the school safer for kids.

Parents were surveyed and the feedback showed concern about a stretch of Blackacres Boulevard along the school's eastern edge, between Hawthorne and Aldersbrook roads.

"It's just one long road with no stops," said Close. "So cars can come down here quite quickly and there was nowhere for kids to cross, and that was a major concern."  

The committee did a walk-through of the road, involving everyone from staff at the Middlesex Public Health Unit, to police, to school and city workers and local Councillor Josh Morgan. 

The first traffic calming measure was to add a pedestrian crossing on Blackacres between Yardley Wood Road and Edgehill Crescent. 

The second step was reducing the speed limit in that stretch of Blackacres from 50 km/h down to 40 km/h. 

Next was the placement of two "student silhouettes" — life-sized photo cutouts of children beneath a message that asks drivers to slow down.

To a driver at the wheel, the silhouettes look like a real child at the roadside waiting to cross. The visual of a child so close to the road is often enough to get drivers to back off the accelerator and start tapping the brake. 

"It looks like a real child," said Close. "So if a driver doesn't notice the sign, they just might see a child and they will slow down for a child that might be darting across the road. It's a little more eye-catching when you have something that's the size of a child." 

Close said she and other parents have noticed drivers slowing down near the school since the silhouettes and the other traffic-calming measures were put in place..

The city has five sets of the student silhouettes and they can be lent out to London schools on a rotating basis. Emily Carr was among the first five London schools to try them out. 

"There definitely has been improvement," said Close. "I think traffic is just more aware that there's a school here."

The changes at Emily Carr come as the City of London launches a survey of drivers, seeks their input on dropping speed limit on residential streets to below 50 km/h.

Recent amendments to the provincial Highway Traffic Act allow Ontario cities to look at reducing the default limit to below 50 km/h in certain areas. 

Council passed a resolution last year to set speed limits at 40 km/h or lower for community safety zones and school zones. There's also a discussion underway about whether to trim that 40 km/h limit down further, as low as 30 km/h in some cases. 


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