The Yellow Brick Road

A traffic management initiative for neighborhoods

Don Sheffield
Retired Chief Executive Officer
Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA)

The July 2000 edition of the APWA Reporter included an article on Traffic Calming and explained some of the concepts and tools that have been in use in Australia since the early 1970s. They were introduced to encourage safer and more environmentally acceptable use of the road system by vehicular, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic.

This article briefly outlines a traffic management initiative of Canterbury City Council, a large residential local government area in the southwestern suburbs of Sydney, Australia.

Road safety around schools has always been a concern for this council, and the council has been active for many years in addressing problems as they were identified. Various devices have been used to control the speed of traffic in neighborhood precincts and adjacent to schools with varying success. Under this initiative, however, a concentrated effort was made to reduce traffic speed along the routes the children walk to and from school, and to encourage the children to follow the safest possible routes.

It became an exercise in traffic safety education for both motorists and school children. It was also decided that it should be based on a concept to which the children could easily relate and motorists could readily accept as being in the interests of the children's safety.

Council officers had watched and noted the way in which children walk to school or often worst still how they were dropped off adjacent to the school by their parents. It was agreed these matters needed some form of attention.

The dangers that are frequently created by parents were noted. These parents are usually law-abiding but, for some reason, often completely ignore traffic regulations and common courtesy in their efforts to drop off and collect their children without leaving the comfort of their driver's seat.

It was apparent that regulatory signposting was not effective. Accordingly, the council directed its efforts towards measures that would make the routes the children used to and from school, if they walk or cycle, as safe as possible, and if they are driven, the area in which they are dropped off or picked up, much safer.

The general movement of the children to and from the school was observed and noted. More importantly, with the permission of the school Principal, classes were approached and the children supplied with maps and asked to color the paths they used to and from school. Similar maps were provided for the parents to show the routes they believed their children used. These provided some interesting comparisons.

Not surprisingly, there were often short cuts used and, when identified, the safety of these routes could be addressed. Additionally, the children and parents were invited to identify locations they considered were dangerous.

While the scheme focused on the school children, it also provided opportunities to examine the movement of other pedestrians to and from shops and community facilities.

The routes identified were then depicted on a map of the precinct and there was further consultation with the school and the local community to encourage acceptance of the findings.

The concept adopted was to link areas together by a series of street crossings that are safer than those previously used. These crossing points enabled the pedestrians to cross the busier roads to gain access to other parts of the estate. In the direction of the school the crossings were located on the shortest path to the school, but some greater flexibility was used where more mature pedestrians were concerned.

An important feature of the scheme was in the physical identification of the safer routes for the children and their parents. It was decided to base this on the theme of the "Yellow Brick Road" featured in the movie "The Wizard of Oz." The safe routes for the children to follow were marked on the pavements by a series of yellow footprints. The road crossings used yellow paving blocks and were raised above the pavement surface to create speed humps. The crossings were also signposted as pedestrian crossings.

Several of these schemes have now been implemented within Canterbury City and the first of them was installed in 1986. It is still performing well. Apart from increasing the level of road safety for children to and from school, a reduction in the general speed of vehicles driven through the precinct has been noted and there is a broad acceptance of the traffic calming measures on the various roads.

There are some important messages from this initiative:

  • The need to identify a well-defined precinct for treatment to achieve the desired community acceptance.

  • The involvement of the affected community in each of the phases of investigation, design, implementation, and assessment.

  • Ensuring that the measures used are practical and that both motorists and pedestrians can readily appreciate their purpose.

  • Ensuring that the construction of any devices is of a high standard and completed in logical sequence.

  • Using a good gimmick, such as the "Yellow Brick Road," to capture the imagination of the group with which you are working and to secure the support of the funding body.

  • Assessment of the completed scheme.

    The success of any neighborhood traffic management scheme relies on the basic principles outlined above. If we are to gain the support of motorists driving through residential precincts, we must create an environment that they recognize as being different to the major traffic routes. The pedestrians and cyclists moving within the precinct must also be given appropriate messages to ensure they use the road and footways with confidence and an awareness of the other traffic sharing their space.

    Further information on IPWEA can be obtained by visiting its website at To contact Don Sheffield, send e-mail to