Street smart

By Kim Wright | 18 June 2019

At the beginning and the end of the school day, children travelling to and from school often have to navigate roads that are heavily congested with cars, making the last leg of their journey to school, which should be safe and easy, hazardous.

This scenario is one that’s played out at many schools across the UK every morning and afternoon.

In Hackney, we think this is unacceptable. It’s also out of sync with our ambitions to reclaim our borough from cars, tackle poor air quality and make it easier to walk and cycle.

That’s why we’re rolling-out School Streets – where motor traffic is banned outside schools for 45 minutes at pick-up and drop-off times – across the borough.

It’s why we’re also sharing this experience with other local authorities in a free toolkit to help guide them through the process of introducing School Streets.

The rationale behind School Streets is simple. By reducing the volume of traffic using roads past school gates, we can improve air quality in and around the school gates, increase the number of pupils walking and cycling to school, and reduce the number of pupils arriving by car.

At the School Streets we’ve introduced so far, traffic at opening and closing times is down by two-thirds, emissions produced by motor vehicles are down by three-quarters and the number of children cycling to school is up by over a half.

Each of our seven School Streets have also been supported widely by parents and teachers – with all receiving over 64% support in consultation.

Much of the debate around pollution at schools’ gates has focussed on banning idling, but School Streets go so much further than this – they make the streets outside schools places for everyone, tackling poor air quality and tackling the obesity crisis by making it easier for kids to walk and cycle to school.

So, why do we feel that School Streets are replicable across the country?

Whatever the area – from London to Edinburgh, Bristol to Solihull – School Streets work because they use a small intervention to make a big difference to children’s lives, making roads safer, improving air quality and encouraging physical activity.

We’ve introduced them on cul-de-sacs and through-roads at schools small and large. Among children and parents, there’s a growing nationwide awareness of the dangers of poor air quality and an increasing desire to tackle the obesity crisis by encouraging walking and cycling to school.

So what should other local authorities focus on in delivering School Streets?

Any restrictions to traffic can have the potential to be controversial so it’s essential to have the backing of schools, especially when they’re communicating the benefits to staff and parents.

Before we started, we asked all primary schools in the borough if they wanted to be a part of the scheme to get an idea of which schools were passionate about it. We based the roll-out of the scheme on a combination of this and the location of the school.

It’s also incredibly important to collect data to show the impact of the scheme. This may sound obvious, but being able to show the level of traffic at the school before and after implementation, as well as the mode of travel of students to school, is crucial in being able to demonstrate reductions in air quality and improvements in walking and cycling rates. Traffic counts also help to prove that the schemes don’t displace traffic into other areas.

In Hackney, we’ve also been lucky to have very strong political support and steer for the scheme, which has been integral to its success. The politics of local authorities differ, but it’s hard to argue against the benefits of School Streets in improving road safety, air quality and physical activity if councillors have been brought on board from the start.

We’re in the first few years of our School Streets journey – with seven introduced so far, and plans for a further 10 by 2022 – but already their benefits are far-reaching.

We hope our School Streets toolkit – which is available for free – alongside training that we have developed with Modeshift, will take other councils through the journey, and get them well on the way to make the roads outside schools a better place for children to start and end the day.

Kim Wright is group director, neighbourhoods and housing at Hackney LBC

Hackney Council’s School Streets toolkit is available at: https://news.hackney.gov.uk/hackney-council-launches-nationwide-blueprint-to-ban-traffic-outside-schools/

Training course details available at: www.modeshift.org.uk/events

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