Seminar #13 – What can School Streets do?

Date – 22nd October 2020

This webinar was the 13th in our Sustainable Transport Futures seminar series and had an excellent turnout (tune in) despite our concerns about potential webinar fatigue. The webinar focused on School Streets, exploring what they were and what they could do to support children’s active travel to school. A School Street is a road outside of a school that has a temporary restriction on motorised traffic at school drop-off and pick-up times. The restriction applies to both school traffic (exempting blue-badge holders) and through traffic in order to create a safer and healthier environment for children, parents, staff and residents.

Harrie Larrington-Spencer, Healthy Active Cities, University of Salford  

The seminar began with a brief introduction from Harrie who gave an overview of what School Streets are for those less familiar with them and situated the webinar within a context of declining children’s active travel, increasing inactivity and the subsequent health implications, as well as the risks to children around active travel including death and serious injury as pedestrians. Harrie also discussed Vivacity traffic count data, provided by the Manchester Urban Observatory, showing the positive increase in pedestrian counts at the return to school but also the huge increases in car numbers outside schools.  

Jenny Wiles, Regional Director (North) for Living Streets  

Living Streets is an organization for walking that is almost 100 years old, with the mantra that streets should be for all. After reminding the audience to respond to the Highway code consultation which closes on at the end of October 2020, Jenny described the vision of Living Streets as walking being the natural choice for journeys. Jenny gave an overview of pioneering School Streets in Edinburgh and Hackney, London, and discussed the role of Living Streets in providing information and advice to families, councils, schools and local authorities to support the development of School Streets. Living Streets have trailed several initiatives, including Park and Stride in Birmingham and the WOW walk to school scheme which involves children earning badges for their active travel to school.   

Asa Thomas, PhD Research with the Active Travel Academy at the University of Westminster 

Asa’s presentation began by recognizing the increasing policy focus upon School Streets and situated his PhD research in a broader research project on increasing active travel. Asa highlighted the significant impact that school run traffic has on overall traffic levels and asserted that early data shows that School Streets can work as a behavioral change tool and that using spatial data shows the potential of expanding schemes. Asa also raised the question of whether the School Street is always the best intervention to fulfil policy goals – or whether other interventions such as Active Neighbourhoods had a role – and also highlighted that School Streets also need to be considered within the broader making of place and landscape.  

Helen Rimmer and Lorenza Casini, Clean Air Levenshulme 

Clean Air Levenshulme is an informal network or parents and grandparents from Levenshulme and Burnage which started through concerns about air pollution and health implications, particularly for children. Their presentation showed many examples of the extreme levels of congestion outside of their local schools and the implications of this in terms of space for social distancing in pedestrian areas during COVID-19 period. They suggested that many school trips do not need to be made by car and indeed pollution from school journeys by car have an impact upon children inside the car, as well as children walking alongside cars. Whilst recognising that there are many complexities in advocating for active travel, Helen and Lorenza highlighted the importance of using success stories – such as the walking bus on the Fallowfield loop and the Clean Air Day activities – to create sparks for development and extension. 


Q & A session 

The webinar finished with a panel Q & A session, with opportunities for viewers to ask questions.  The discussion was broad and varied, including questions of traffic displacement and equity, particularly when School Streets are part of larger Active Neighbourhood schemes. The discussion also moved to the practicalities of what can be done to support schools and councils to implement School Streets. Participants highlighted that, and particularly currently, headteachers are incredibly busy reacting to current restrictions and this means that the efforts and drive of local parents and communities are invaluable.  

Presentations from the seminar

Presentation by Jennie Wiles, Regional Director (North), Living Streets