School Streets are popular with – and good for – schools, parents and pupils and local residents alike.
That was the consensus view of a panel of experts who featured in a live discussion staged last week as part of the Festival of Road Safety.
The session – titled ‘The school run – keeping pupils & parents safe while encouraging them to walk and cycle more often’ – was chaired by Liz Brooker MBE from Lewisham Council and featured panellists Carla Leowe from Westminster Council, Dr Adrian Davis from Edinburgh Napier University and Jenny Wiles from Living Streets.
Carla Leowe opened the session by explaining that School Streets involve the timed closure of streets around schools to restrict vehicles and create a pedestrian and cycle zone at opening and closing times.
She explained that in Westminster there are currently 22 School Streets, introduced as part of the council’s active streets programme.
One of the schemes is permanent whereas 14 have been introduced in response to Covid-19. The schemes use a mix of ANPR, bollards and planters/barriers, as suits the different locations.
Adrian Davis talked about a recent report he has authored, which looked at whether school streets simply displace traffic onto neighbouring streets and create any road safety issues there.
He said that schemes are generally implemented by local authorities to increase active travel and deliver health and environmental benefits – and in the current climate to enhance social distancing – rather than to alleviate road safety issues or concerns.
He went on to describe School Streets as a ‘win, win, win’ – because they are popular with schools, parents and children and residents alike.
In answer to a question about how to get local people on board, Carla Leowe suggested inviting local councillors to go on a walk about to see how it works ‘on street’, which she said is ‘much better than looking at drawings’.
In Westminster, while councillors are generally supportive, some schools have not quite understood the concept, so she has arranged a visit to a nearby school where there is a School Streets scheme in operation, to answer questions and address concerns.
Adrian Davis said that in general humans don’t like behaviour change, but suggested that practitioners can use road safety concerns in order to sell the idea of School Streets. He also said support for schemes among residents goes up after implementation.
Jenny Wiles advocated the ‘try before you buy’ approach taken in Leeds where they started doing one day School Streets events, then progressing to a trial before implementing a full scheme.
All panellists agreed about the importance of communication, in particular of the need to start talking to residents early in order to ‘bring them with you’.
Carla Leowe also said it is important to talk to other teams within the council who may be affected by School Streets.
Jenny Wiles said the ideal scenario is to bring residents and schools together to talk about what solution is required. This might lead to a different solution to that initially envisaged, she said.
Click here to watch and listen to the session – the discussion about School Streets is the first topic.