School Streets to protect our children

Hackney school street

The areas immediately surrounding schools are an interesting barometer of a country’s attitude toward its young. In Britain today, more than 950 schools are near roads with harmful levels of illegal pollution, which has a disproportionately detrimental effect on young lungs. Countless more are situated on roads that force pupils to run a gauntlet of speeding drivers and pavement parking. These threats to our children’s health have prompted one London borough to pioneer ‘School Streets’ – a scheme to transform roads outside schools so that only pedestrians and cyclists can use them at school start and finish times.

The closure of the streets not only tackles congestion and improves air quality at the school gates, making it easier and safer to walk and cycle to school, but creates a more pleasant environment for everyone, while making sure residents, businesses, pedestrians and cyclists can still use the road.

Motorised vehicles are not permitted to enter the street at drop-off and pick-up times unless they have been granted an exemption (residents living or working in a school street zone, a business in a school street zone or a blue badge holder).

Cameras monitor traffic at either end of the street during the times of operation and fixed penalty notices are issued where appropriate.

The school street outside St John the Baptist School in Hackney was made permanent on 3 December 2018 and five other school across the Borough are due to start trials.

Here in Britain we are victims of a back-to-front approach to road danger reduction that sees changes made only following a death. Whilst it’s true that budgets are finite, money invested in safer roads brings a sound return on investment. From a financial perspective, the cost of a fatal casualty of a road traffic collision – including lost output, medical and ambulance costs and human costs – is estimated to be £1.69 million, a figure which makes the £200,000 price tag for a schools street camera sound altogether reasonable. Councils who would like a school street but cannot afford the financial outlay can use a traffic management order to allow the road to closed by teachers or volunteer parents.  It’s an approach that requires on-the-ground logistics that the cameras avoid, but for schools with a problem with dangerous traffic and who can call on parents for help, it can be a viable alternative.

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