How many of Albemarle's students live on roads that become inaccessible with even a small amount of snow?
A study in March 2014 identified 158 roads in Albemarle County that become inaccessible with even a small amount of snow; 79 of those are unpaved. At that time, 1,558 ACPS students lived along those roads. The level of driving difficulty caused by snow conditions on these roads varies widely. In some cases, the road itself may be minimally accessible, but adjacent hazards or obstacles such as severe drop-offs, lack of sight distance around curves, narrowing of the road, low-hanging branches and insufficient cleared space to safely turn the bus around, make them unsafe or impractical for school bus travel.
When the weather has cleared and traffic is moving well in the urban ring, are there really a lot of roads in the county that are not accessible? Where are these roads? How about a map to show were they are?
The number of roads that remain inaccessible once urban roads are cleared will ultimately depend on the severity of the particular storm and the ability of VDOT to adequately clear roads. It is also important to know that many of these roads do not receive direct sunlight due to the dense foliage and over-hanging trees present. As a result, days after urban roads are cleared these roads remain snow covered or even iced over, should the temperature drop. Examples of roads that fit this category can be found throughout the county.
If there is a two-hour delay, how much and in what way does it help road conditions? It doesn't seem to matter in the suburban areas.
The two-hour delay is used primarily for two reasons. First, the delay allows for the onset of daylight, eliminating at least one hazard to driving a larger vehicle over narrow snow covered roads. The second reason for a two-hour delay is to avoid the full brunt of the morning rush hour traffic, which serves to minimize the number of other vehicles traveling the roads at the same time. The motoring public is often our biggest driving challenge during inclement weather.
Why do schools up north hold school in conditions that would close our schools?
Schools in both rural and urban settings in the north do in fact close as a result of winter weather. Actually a meaningful comparison cannot be made between a mostly rural environment like Albemarle and predominantly urban environments; the driving hazards associated with traveling in snow can be vastly different. The risk to students on a school bus stuck in a snow drift on an urban street pales in comparison to the risk for students on a school bus, in similar conditions in a rural setting where the potential exists for a bus to skid off the road, possibly into a ravine, or off a one lane bridge, or into ever-present bodies of water. Additionally, in urban areas most often the buses are parked centrally in a vehicle pool. In Albemarle, school bus drivers take their buses home. As a result, the majority of our buses are routinely parked throughout the county on secondary and tertiary roads that receive the lowest snow removal priority. Even after being plowed, many dead-end secondary and tertiary roads often lack cleared areas sufficiently large enough to safely turn around a 34-foot school bus.
Why can't the school division require parents who live on unpaved roads to bring their children out to the main roads for bus travel to school?
A plan similar to this was in place for several years. However, repeated public concerns were raised in each instance of implementation. As a result, the plan was subsequently abandoned. The biggest objection to the plan stemmed from the necessity for constantly modifying those roads to be served. Seldom were all the roads previously identified for service under the plan, actually usable. The size and severity of the storm, the storm's eventual track, and the snow removal efforts by VDOT did not always facilitate service to pre-identified roads and areas of service.
Are there any laws that require the schools to close if they cannot run their bus service or that require the schools to service every area, no matter how remote?
The decision on what areas in a school district will receive service and what areas will not is entirely up to the school district. For example, some school districts elect not to transport students who reside within a specified distance of their school, or other students who reside on private roads, or any number of different criteria.
Is the decision to close school influenced by financial considerations? For example, are schools closed because absenteeism would reduce funding for the school division?
Funding for the school division plays no part in a recommendation to open or close school. The recommendation from Transportation to close schools is based on the road conditions and driving conditions that staff encounters during their early morning assessment of several benchmark roads throughout different sectors of the county. Based on existing road conditions or in some cases, forecasted weather conditions, staff makes a professional judgment as to whether or not a school bus, with an overall body length of 34 feet, a wheelbase of 254 inches, and an average turning radius of 35 feet, will be able to safely and adequately maneuver.
Are school buses more prone to accidents than other vehicles on snow days? Everyone seems to think that SUVs and larger vehicles are safer than smaller vehicles, so why isn't the same true for school buses? Is there hard evidence that this is a safety issue? For example, are there motor vehicle studies that show a high rate of school bus accidents in localities that hold school even when it snows?
The assumption that SUV and other larger type vehicles such as school buses provide increased passenger protection is correct. However, the increase in passenger protection refers to vehicle-to-vehicle or vehicle-to-fixed object collisions. Part of the thinking when recommending school closings stems from the desire to avoid these kind of collisions however, there are greater potential hazards unique to school buses, that we must also consider. For example, school buses are more likely to meet other vehicles too large for the two vehicles to pass on narrow mountainous snow covered roads, with little or no room for safely maneuvering. Because of their size and limited maneuverability, school buses run a higher risk of skidding off the road surface, of sliding or even worst, rolling into a ravine or nearby body of water. Also, there are countless one-lane bridges throughout the county, many barely wider than the bus that represent unique challenges especially once they are snow covered. These and other factors are what the transportation recommendation is based on.
Are there any national standards on school bus safety and road conditions?
Statistical data related to the operation of school buses can be found at the School Bus Information Council (SBIC). The SBIC maintains a comprehensive database on the operation of school buses on a national level. SBIC information can be accessed here: