School streets are temporary closures to motor traffic on streets around schools at drop-off and pick-up times, with the intention of creating a cleaner, safer and healthier environment for children and their families on the way to and from school.
During the closure periods, cars, motorbikes, vans and lorries (with the exception of residents’ vehicles) are restricted from entering the ‘school street’ by either a temporary physical barrier (often stewarded by members of the school community) or by ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) technology and the imposition of fines.
Why are school streets a good idea?
Removing motor traffic from school streets at these critical times when children and their families are making their way to and from school reduces the dangers of poor air quality, particularly for young lungs. As the campaign group Mums for Lungs note, “Evidence is mounting of associations between air pollution and a number of conditions including heart and lung disease, respiratory conditions, dementia, miscarriage, stunted lung growth in children, teenage psychotic episodes and reduced cognitive ability.” Research in 2017 concluded that “more than 2,000 [British] schools and nurseries close to roads with damaging levels of diesel fumes”. Not only can school streets improve air quality but they also raise awareness for children and their families of the need to act on this.
Streets near schools can be chaotic at drop-off and pick-up times, with parents and carers who drive squeezing down narrow, overcrowded roads and jostling for parking spaces, getting frustrated and making the streets increasingly dangerous for those walking, cycling and scooting. We’ve all seen near-misses – or even collisions – around schools at these times. Thousands of deaths and injuries of children take place on the school run; The Independent reported on research that “shows more than half a million vehicle collisions on roads around schools in UK from 2006 to 2011, resulting in more than 85,000 child casualties”. According to The Pedestrian Project, “28.1% of pedestrian deaths of under-fives occur[..] on pavements”. This CycleStreets website maps the locations where pedestrians and cyclists are hit by drivers from 2005 to 2019. With just one local example (King Edward Primary School, North Shields) you can see how many of these collisions take place around a school. Use the website to zoom in and have a look at the streets around your children’s schools.
School streets also enable more active travel for children and their families on the school run, making streets safer for walking, cycling and scooting. This not only means fewer cars (and better air quality and fewer collisions) but also more physical activity for children. According to Mums for Lungs, “a School Streets trial at a primary school in Eltham [London] resulted in a 54% reduction in cars driving to school, a 27% increase in cycling and 9% increase in scooting”. Enabling children to be physically active is of course important for all sorts of reasons, but studies particularly show that being physically active before school has real benefits for the whole school day.
And physical activity does only have to mean walking, cycling and scooting – school streets also create space for children to play on the way to and from school – and play is not just a lot of fun, but is also the way most young children get their exercise.
In the current circumstances, there is an additional benefit to school streets – space for social distancing. The streets outside many local schools can get very crowded, with lots of competition for space, meaning that it can be very difficult for families to stay more than 2 metres away from each other at drop-off and pick-up time. Allowing the school community to use the whole street, not just the pavements, can make all the difference.
There are lots of ways to find out more about school streets.
Here is a short video from Hackney, where there is a very active school streets programme:
And this Twitter thread from Lambeth Living Streets is full of facts and arguments (and some great gifs).
If you’d like to find out more or to campaign for school streets in your neighbourhood and across the borough, please email us (firstname.lastname@example.org).