Tag Archives: school bus

School buses at railroad crossings


The in basket: Sharon O’Hara, a frequent commenter on the Road Warrior blog at kitsapsun.com, used the comment form to ask a question.

“Why do school buses stop at the railroad crossing on Provost Road in Central Kitsap?

“There is no stop sign there but yesterday I followed three school buses and each in turn, came to a full and complete stop at the crossing.”

The out basket: Another blog commenter who goes by Smoking Mouse leaped in with an answer:

“The buses stop because it is required by law,” he said, even including the text of RCW 46.61.350
“The driver of any motor vehicle carrying passengers for hire, other than a passenger car, or of any school bus or private carrier bus carrying any school child or other passenger, or of any vehicle carrying explosive substances or flammable liquids as a cargo or part of a cargo, before crossing at grade any track or tracks of a railroad, shall stop such vehicle within fifty feet but not less than fifteen feet from the nearest rail of such railroad and while so stopped shall listen and look in both directions along such track for any approaching train, and for signals indicating the approach of a train and shall not proceed until he can do so safely. 

It also says the bus can’t change gears while crossing the tracks. 

Laura Nowland, acting transportation director for Central Kitsap schools, says that law is expanded upon by the Washington Administrative Code, which repeats much of the law and also requires that noise on the school bus be kept down while the driver checks for approaching trains . 

There are exceptions which would allow the CK buses to not stop at some of the district’s RR crossings, but Laura said it is district policy that its school bus drivers stop and look at all railroad crossings except two where traffic signals control the crossing – on Newberry Hill and on Tresher Avenue on the Bangor base.

No signal coming to 104 and Highland


The in basket: Just about a year ago, a teacher at David Wolfle Elementary in Kingston on Highland Road wrote to say, “At the end of each school day, I make the dangerous left turn onto (Highway 104). I use the word dangerous because of the 50 mph speed limit that is allowed, the amount of traffic coming from both directions, and the fact that there isn’t a traffic signal, only a stop sign.

“It is nearly impossible to make a left turn when the Kingston ferry has just unloaded or when school is out at the end of the day. The cars of parents who pick up their children followed by the seven buses filled with our kids stack up on Highland Road in an endless stream. I’ve seen many close calls and wonder if there’s any way to have a light installed there.

“It is highly important to keep our kids and parents of our community safe as well as the Wolfle staff,” she wrote. “I’m mainly concerned about having a traffic light operate regularly between the hours of 8:45-9:15 a.m. and 3:30-4:30 p.m.

The out basket: Steve Bennett, traffic operations engineer for the state’s Olympic Region says that site doesn’t compete well with “about 50 intersections in the … region that do meet at least one warrant for a signal, but because of funding restraints, are still waiting for a traffic signal.”

“Warrants” is traffic engineer-speak for the criteria they use in evaluating an intersection for a traffic signal. At Highway 104 and Highland, they used two of eight possible warrants and it didn’t meet either one, Steve said. 

They used the “eight-hour warrant” that measures traffic during the highest eight hours of the day, plus accident history. They used the eight-hour warrant rather than the peak one-hour warrant because “there are still dozens of intersections meeting the eight-hour warrant (that have much worse delay or collision histories than intersections meeting the one-hour warrant) that remain unfunded.  We want to use the limited funding we have to address the worst locations first, and there are dozens of locations worse than this one.”

As I often do when addressing a site where I rarely drive, I tested this one a couple of times one school day afternoon. By 4 p.m., the traffic from the existing signal at Miller Bay Road had backed up nearly to the Highland intersection, and it was a long wait to get out both times, with mine the only car waiting. I can imagine how long it takes with seven school buses and many private cars in line. 

Nonetheless, red sequences at the signals at Miller Bay and back where Bond Road turns into Highway 104 ultimately provided a break in traffic that allowed me (and would have allowed several others) to turn.




Once again, school bus stopping rules

The in basket: After the Road Warrior’s most recent discussion of when drivers must  stop for a school bus with its red lights flashing and stop sign extended, Don Payne wrote, “The

Washington Driver’s Guide says ‘You must stop for a school

bus that is stopped with its red lights flashing whether it is on your

side of the road, the opposite side of the road or at an intersection you are approaching.’

“The business of the three marked lanes is pretty clear and been gone over a lot,” he said. “I have never heard a discussion or seen an explanation of the third clause -‘or at an intersection you are approaching.’

“I’ve looked in the RCWs and can find no mention or discussion of this clause,” Don wrote. ” Maybe you can add some light.”

The out basket: I have concluded that stopping for a school bus unloading children is unavoidable, even though the law permits a driver going in the opposite direction to proceed if there is a lane, even a left turn lane, between the car and the bus. Twice more since that column appeared, I have seen a cautious driver stop even though he or she didn’t have to, stopping everyone behind the car. 

The phrase Don uncovered puzzled me, since a North Kitsap school transportation official I talked with in preparing the last column went out of her way to say a driver going the opposite direction can complete a turn as long as the car doesn’t pass the extended paddle stop sign on the side of the bus. 

It turns out, says Brad Benfield of the state Department of Licensing, which publishes the driver’s guide, that that third clause refers to traffic on a street CROSSING the one the bus is on. No turn toward the bus that takes the car beyond the bus is legal. Turns away from the bus are OK.

It’s kind of an excess of caution, as the  “lane-in-between” exception also applies to a turner, but the wording makes it clear that a driver on the cross street must abide by the same rules as those on the street the bus is on.

When a car meets a school bus on Finn Hill Road


The in basket: Claudia Kilburn of Poulsbo writes, “Going down Finn Hill in Poulsbo, I have encountered a school bus coming up the hill.  There is a turn lane in this area and when the bus stops and engages its red lights (are) vehicles traveling down the hill required to stop?  

“I have stopped each time,” she said, “and braced for honking from the vehicles behind me (which didn’t happen!).  Please let us all know how to handle this situation.”

The out basket: No, those in Claudia’s lane don’t have to stop in that situation.

Kat Peterson, driver trainer for North Kitsap Schools, puts it this way. The paddle stop sign on the side of the bus controls the lane the bus is in and the lane next to it when it’s extended as the bus stops to pick up children.

There is a lane between the bus and the lane Claudia is in when she meets the bus, so vehicles in that lane needn’t stop. Were it a two-lane road, rather than the three-lane road it is, oncoming traffic would have to stop too.

No traffic in the bus’ lane and the lane next to it may pass the stopped bus.

This puzzle confronts drivers on three-lane roads all over the county. Most often someone in the oncoming lane where no stop is required will be sufficiently uncertain of the law that they stop to play it safe. So, more often than not, traffic in both directions stops even though oncoming traffic isn’t required to. 

As with other such locations with three or more lanes, Kat said, the buses won’t let students off where they have to cross the street. That bus or another will come down in the opposite direction to let those students off.

She also noted that oncoming traffic in the turn lane, wanting to turn left, may do so as long is the car doesn’t travel past the bus’ paddle stop sign. NK school bus drivers are instructed to stop far enough back from an intersection to eliminate doubt in an oncoming left turner’s mind that the turn in front of the stopped bus is legal.