Don’t expect to see the classic, neon yellow school zone sign next time you’re cruising through the Township of Esquimalt.
Neither Macaulay Elementary, Rockheights Middle School nor Esquimalt High School are designated school zones, and instead are listed as playground zones. These zones carry a canary yellow, diamond-shaped sign with a person running after a ball in the middle, as well as a speed limit of 30 km/h.
This wasn’t an oversight– it was a decision that the Township said was consciously made.
In recent years, members of the Township’s engineering department sat down to decide that they wanted to scrap school zones.
“[They] had a discussion, and decided that playground zones offer more protection for children than school zones,” said Bill Brown, director of development services, in an emailed statement. “Playground zones have longer hours and are in place 365 days a year while school zones are only in place on school days.”
Both zones call for the same speed limit, but carry different application times: playground zones are in action from dawn until dusk, while school zones are in effect from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Both areas also carry the same legal consequences for speeding drivers.
“School zones and playground zones result in the same fines,” said VicPD spokesperson Const. Matt Rutherford. “[From] $196-$253 and three points.”
The option to choose between playground and school zone hours was introduced by an amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act in 2003.
“This allows communities and schools to set hours to meet the needs of the community,” said the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure in an emailed statement.
The ministry doesn’t, however, lean in favour of using the playground signage at schools.
“If a playground ‘dawn to dusk’ speed zone were used for a school zone, children would not be afforded the same level of safety – as children may be present before dawn or after dusk in the winter months.”
As a result of the differences and overlaps between the two zones, the ministry is considering instating a combined ‘child activity zone’ instead, but is currently in the research phase of this shift.
One example being studied is from the City of Calgary, where playground zones and school zones were consolidated into a single play zone with fixed hours in 2016.
In the meantime, other neighbourhoods are getting creative with their options. While Esquimalt is the only area in the Greater Victoria School District to exclusively impose playground zones, several schools in Victoria have alternative signage. Victoria High School, for example, is neither a playground nor school zone, instead simply having markers for a 30 km/h speed limit. Similarly, Lambrick Park Secondary doesn’t have official signage but uses a series of speed bumps along its neighbouring streets.
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