Poor motorist behavior, including driving too fast in school zones, was one of the key issues highlighted in the Bismarck-Mandan School Safety Crossing Study, presented to the Bismarck City Commission Tuesday night.

"A reoccurring issue that came from our bus drivers, from our parents, from our principals, from our school site observers, was that people appear to be traveling too fast around the school areas," said Peggy Harter, Stantec project manager.

In addition to driving too fast in school zones, school site observers noted drivers texting while driving, parking in drop-off zones and double parking.

The Bismarck-Mandan Metropolitan Planning Organization, in conjunction with Stantec, partnered with the Bismarck and Mandan school districts, and the cities of Bismarck, Mandan and Lincoln to study improvements to school safety for walking and biking.

The 16-month study examined bicycling and walking safety at 33 public elementary, middle and high schools throughout Bismarck-Mandan and identified recommendations to encourage more students to bike and walk to school, as well as improve conditions for all modes of transportation around the school sites.

Twenty four of the 33 schools studied are part of the Bismarck School District, including Will-Moore Elementary, Wachter Middle School and Legacy High.

The study involved extensive research and engagement with school staff, parents, students, law enforcement and city and county staff to understand the unique conditions and challenges families face at schools across the region.

Students were asked what mode of transportation they use to get to and from school, and school principals, parents and bus drivers were surveyed.

"Regardless of the mode of transportation that students choose, or have to take, to get to and from school, we feel that all students deserve to be safe," Harter said. "And walking and bicycling really benefit the health of our students."

Full bicycle racks were cited as a deterrent for students not wanting to bike to school. Also a concern for middle school students was the large distance between home and school, making it difficult to walk or bike to class.

Some of the study's recommendations include the implementation of 20 mph school speed zone signs at all of the Bismarck-Mandan schools, installing additional bike racks where needed, assigning additional crossing guards at certain crosswalks and continued education for both students and drivers.

"It's part of our North Dakota Century Code that people are supposed to drive 20 miles per hour around our school sites when children are present, but most of our schools don't have the signage around the school sites," Harter said.

"I feel like it's really important to encourage drivers to follow that law, so you're going to see this as one of our highest priority recommendations," she said.

It would cost Bismarck approximately $1.14 million to outfit every school in the district with school speed zone signs. Optional funding sources include the Highway Safety Improvement Program, Transportation Alternatives/Safe Routes to School and/or local funds.

"I think we would be foolish to not take this to heart considering that, I believe, this commission has stated before that safety is our highest priority so this would speak directly to that," said Commissioner Shawn Oban.

The commission accepted the report, but no action was taken as the study has yet to be presented to the school districts, as well as the city of Mandan.

For more information on the study, visit www.bis-mansscs.com.

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