School Streets have emerged globally as a low-cost, simple intervention that reduces vehicle usage, and air pollution, improves road safety, as well creates positive behavioural change in school communities.
On this page:
- The origins of school streets schemes
- Combining data and communities for successful school streets
- Measure school streets results
- Support from parents and children
- How to implement a school streets scheme
School Street schemes are defined as an area of road outside a school subject to a temporary restriction on motorised traffic at school drop-off and pick-up times. The purpose of School Streets schemes is to provide a safer, healthier and cleaner environment for schools and their communities.
School drop-offs represent a significant share of motorised traffic. Before the Pandemic, Transport for London estimated that 25% of weekday morning peak car trips were for school drop-offs, equating to a quarter of a million trips across London.
Limiting traffic flow around schools with a School Street scheme offers a proactive solution for reducing road dangers, air pollution, and poor health.
The FIA Foundation works globally to promote safe, clean, fair and green mobility, they aim to enable children to be healthy and active. The FIA Foundation published the Every Child’s Right To Breathe London case study that focussed on the issue of air pollution from vehicles and explored the actions necessary to ensure safe, clean and healthy journeys to school for children. In the case study, Sheila Watson, Director of Environment and Research highlighted:
“Air pollution affects everyone who breathes dirty air. However, children are particularly vulnerable. They are physically smaller so breathe closer to vehicle exhausts. They also breathe at a faster rate than adults and so take in relatively more pollutants. Moreover, because their bodies are still developing, the toxic materials in the pollution can do lifelong damage.”
The first School Street was implemented in South Tyrolian Bolzano, Italy, in 1989, supported by The Urban Mobility Observatory, and funded by the European Commission. The streets children used to go to school were closed to car traffic at the start of the school day. The Bolzano role model highlighted the benefits of improved road safety and improving the spread of trips across buses, bikes and on foot. The Bolzano scheme also showed that one of the keys to success was to overcome the initial opposition from parents and teachers.
Following the success of Bolzano, similar schemes were pioneered in Belgium, Austria, and the Netherlands in the early 2000s.
One of the key drivers of successful schemes is authorities empowering the school community. By collaboratively working with school leadership, residents, pupils and their families, and local organisations, the wider school community can take ownership of the process and overcome any potential barriers. This approach empowers all ages to influence behavioural change in their community.
Data is a critical component of delivering School Streets. Air quality measurement studies like The Breathe London network are a crucial tool when justifying the need for a scheme and also for measuring its success.
The Breathe London network is run by the Environmental Research Group at Imperial College London. The group combines air pollution science, toxicology and epidemiology to determine the impacts of air pollution on health and has monitored air quality for over 20 years.
The Breathe London network offers affordable, easy to install and easy to maintain, air quality sensors to anyone. The network provides sensors at schools, hospitals and other sites across London that provide real-time air quality information. Quality data such as this supports new scheme proposals and allows success metrics.
Breathe London’s real-time air quality monitoring system, available online at breathelondon.org
In February 2020, the Mayor of London decided to fund a four-year continuation of the pilot phase of the Breathe London network.
Traffic data is also needed before and after a School Street is implemented. Using traffic cameras to capture quantitative data supports community scheme proposals. Maintaining this technology allows accurate measurement when assessing the success of a scheme.
In 2021, DfT conducted research into five School Streets in London to understand how pedestrian and vehicle behaviour changed at each School Street. The study also helped to understand how the presence of vehicles affected the confidence and behaviour of pupils and parent users of the School Street.
Using cameras and analysis technology, they were able to count the volume of vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists travelling through the roads outside schools and through closure points. The cameras also captured vehicle types and speeds.
Path tracing software was used to capture and visualise the flow of pedestrians walking on the pavement and road outside of the school. This showed where pedestrians were taking advantage of the low-traffic environment.
They also conducted conflict and interaction analysis to understand the interactions between pedestrians and vehicles within a School Street. This type of analysis records the severity of interactions, conflicts, and give-way behaviours between vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. For example, a level 1 conflict could be a vehicle pausing to give way to a person walking on the pavement, and a level 5 conflict could be an emergency action, followed by a collision.
Having accurate measurement technology available brings more power to the argument for the need for a School Street scheme.
Trials have been run by councils across the country. In Edinburgh, the council introduced a pilot scheme limiting traffic in the streets directly outside nine schools. In this scheme, drivers were made aware of the restrictions via large flashing signs placed at all the entry points during operating periods.
London’s first temporary road closure outside a school was in the borough of Camden. Here, a temporary closure of the road was indicated by signage and was enforced by temporary bollards that were raised and lowered by school staff.
The Hackney pilot used signs to inform drivers of the restrictions before they entered the closed road. Non-registered vehicles entering or exiting the street during the restricted times were identified by ANPR camera and issued a fixed penalty notice.
In London in 2019, there were just 76 School Streets, and this number has grown steadily, standing at almost 550 in 2023. There are now School Streets in almost every London borough, and a quarter of London primary schools have embraced and implemented a scheme.
Transport for London (TfL) identified significant environmental improvements, such as:
- Vehicles per hour were reduced by 70% to 90% during the restriction times.
- The speed of authorised vehicles travelling through School Streets was reduced during the hours of operation.
- The number of people cycling during the restriction period increased.
- School Streets reduced the number of trips made by private cars, which reduces nitrogen dioxide emissions.
The study also noted an 18% reduction in car travel to school in London as a result of interventions.
When the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, hailed the success of his School Streets programme in March 2022, the Mayor of Hackney, Philip Glanville, said in a press release:
“We’re proud to have pioneered School Streets and now, with 48, Hackney has more than any other borough in London. They are transforming the trip to school for thousands of children in Hackney, reducing toxic air pollution, and supporting kids and their families to walk, cycle and scoot more.”
Both Parents and Children Support School Streets
In a UNICEF survey in France, 87% of respondents were in favour of the implementation of a School Street around their child’s school, with 59% convinced due to safety issues and nearly 40% also convinced by the need for pollution reduction. In Toronto, 100% of children surveyed said they preferred their school street to be car-free.
Improved Air Quality
- Air quality near schools in Brent, Enfield and Lambeth had a 23% reduction in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution.
- NO2 levels in the Flemish Region of Belgium were reduced by 20%.
- Since the Hackney program was launched, the proportion of children cycling to participating schools has increased by over 50%.
Implementing and enforcing School Streets schemes
Following a successful consultation process, School Streets can be implemented using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera technology which monitors traffic during restricted periods.
Fixed cameras are expensive to install, so some councils have chosen to use re-deployable mobile cameras. These camera systems offer greater versatility, quicker installation, and cost-efficiency, especially as a School Streets scheme doesn’t require a permanent solution.
Identifying contravening vehicles and issuing PCNs can only be done efficiently when using a back-office enforcement solution that easily integrates with ANPR cameras. When re-deployable ANPR cameras are combined with a parking enforcement system, enforcing a School Street is affordable and effective, making it possible to implement a School Street in any city, town, or village.
With the right technology, you can monitor your School Street and enforce contraventions accurately, effectively and fairly.
You can learn how to implement these schemes in our article Delivering School Streets Schemes.
Learn about Zatpark ANPR solutions for School Streets
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Sources & further reading:
- The FIA Foundation, Every Child’s Right To Breathe, Case Study: London
- Imperial College London, Environmental Research Group, Analysing the impacts of the environment on the modern world
- ELTIS, Vienna’s pilot project on banning cars at the start of the school day
- DfT, Road Traffic Statistics, London
- Merri-bek City Council, Australia, Open Streets: Creating safer and healthier school runs
- Gov.uk, School Streets programme success press release
- Sustainable Urban Neighbourhoods Research and Implementation Support in Europe (SUNRISE)
- BYCS Clean Cities, School Streets to shape child-friendly cities
- TfL, Getting to know School Streets
- DfT. Appendix 8: School Streets Guidance
- Gov.uk, The Second Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy
- SUSTRANS, Investigating the impact of light touch traffic calming measures outside schools
- Harris Interactive for UNICEF. (2020) Survey of parents of students on home to school journeys and the principle of school streets (French Language Version)
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