September 12


Case Study: School Traffic Control Plan

By Mike Spack

September 12, 2017

child safety, pro bono, school safety, traffic control plan, traffic safety

By Mike Spack, PE, PTOE

About a decade ago I helped my kids’ parochial grade school develop a pick-up/drop-off procedure.  The principal has moved on and sent me the following email on August 24th:

“we are in need of some help with our traffic flow at both the beginning and the end of the school day.  There are about 10 buses and 100 cars that basically utilize the same space and staff that have assisted over the past year shared with me that they think, “it’s a miracle there haven’t been any injuries as of yet.”  That being said,  I can think of only one person who I would entrust this child safety issue with and that is you.  If you are still doing this type of consulting, will you please let me know asap?”

Ann is one of the nicest people I know, and I agreed to help her out pro bono.  Below is the traffic control plan I developed for Epiphany Catholic School in Coon Rapids, MN.  At the end is a great 90-second video they put together to illustrate the afternoon parent pick-up procedure.

Notes About the Morning/Afternoon School Traffic Control Plan

  • The goal is to minimize kids walking between cars as well as to ensure cars/buses are not moving while kids are present. An exception may be parents walking between cars with their kids.
  • Conceptually, we want to segregate pick-ups/drop-offs from parking vehicles and buses.
  • We want one-way counter-clockwise traffic flow on the north side of the parking lot.
  • We want one-way counter-clockwise traffic flow on the south side of the parking lot.
  • Vehicles are directed to the west side of the parking lot if they came to the wrong driveway and needed to drive through the whole site.
  • All staff working the parking lot should wear safety vests.
  • Staff controlling the front and back of the pickup zone should have stop sign/slow sign reversible paddles to help direct the drivers.

Carpool/Drop-off Procedure 

  • Parents pull in adjacent to the curb and let the kids out the passenger side directly onto the sidewalk.
  • Cones should be placed to push cars to curbside.
  • Staff should be there to help keep the kids and cars moving along.

Carpool/Pickup Procedure

  • Provide each family with a laminated card with a unique number on it that becomes the family’s number.
  • Staff direct the first 36 vehicles to arrive for carpool into the pickup zone, parked six deep and leaving a parking stall between each vehicle for safe door opening and child loading. All later cars are queued up behind them.
  • All vehicles have the number card on the dashboard.
  • A staff member reads off numbers over a walkie talkie to staff who are controlling the kids to be picked up (either in the school or on the curb).
  • A staff member who is controlling the kids release the kids to go out to the cars once the 36 cars are parked. They can translate the number to family names or teach the kids their family number as a shortcut.
  • A staff member releases the pennant flag to create an exit point, and staff directs the 36 loaded cars safely out of the loading zone.
  • After the first 36 cars are released, staff lets the next 36 vehicles into the “grid” and numbers are read back to staff. Once the next 36 cars are all parked, a staff member releases the next wave of kids.
  • Repeat the procedure with the next group of cars and children.
  • The grid area available for the pickup zone is quite large. The number of cars loaded at a single time could be iterated up or down based on experience from the first week.
  • Numbers could also be painted on the individual parking stalls if that would help communicate with the kids where they should go.

Here are the three figures that accompany the notes and a video at the end:

Below is a video of the pickup procedure video the school created. You may also be interested in our School Speed Zone webinar that we had for Traffic Corner Tuesday.



  • Do you have any documented data (& sources) to determine the max total queue storage length needed per student on site as well as (usually) off site for the am drop off period and for the pm pick up period. Especially for charter elementary schools that typically don’t have any school bus service. Ratios I have seen vary widely. Thanks.

  • Hi Albert – The sources I have seen also vary wildly and I don’t have data to add. The best data I’ve seen (included in a calculator spreadsheet) is at We work with each school to make estimates based on their demographics. Often, parochial and charter schools have families with multiple kids in the school which significantly reduces the number of cars. We generally assume 25 feet in length per vehicle, but that is somewhat dependent on the configuration of the pick-up/drop-off zone. Mike

  • Great post, and really good video too.

    Only thing the video should have done better would have been to add a little nudge that the reasoning behind the plan is to avoid getting kids hurt while being effiecient. People understand “what,” but they are happier doing it if they also understand “why.” If they understand and believe the why, they will self-police each other over the what part.

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    Mike Spack

    My mission is to help traffic engineers, transportation planners, and other transportation professionals improve our world.

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