This article was published in 2020, in Magazine 148.
The nationwide School Streets scheme makes it safer for children to walk and cycle to school – and Cambridgeshire County Council are funding it here. Rosamund Humphrey explains why it’s needed and how it works.
Swapping the car for walking, cycling or scooting to school would save the NHS £1.1 billion each year in health costs1 and, even more crucially, could help us save the lives of hundreds of children killed on our roads each year2 and save thousands of others suffering the health impacts of air pollution. Nationally, over 2,000 schools are in areas with high levels of air pollution and pollution triples3 at school run times.
The uptake of initiatives to minimise the problem is long overdue; however, the Covid-19 pandemic prompted an urgent and unprecedented need to move people away from public transport and towards more active travel – and give them space. The UK Government responded by announcing £2 billion for active travel improvements4 and instructing local councils to implement supportive measures. As part of this, the Cambridgeshire County Council Highways and Transport Committee agreed a set of measures for immediate implementation across the county to encourage active travel – including the School Streets scheme.
What is a School Street?
The idea is simple: at set times each day during term time, the streets around schools are closed to motor vehicles. Signs are put up to inform drivers of the road closure, and temporary barriers (such as modal filters) can be used to enforce it. Residents, local businesses and blue badge holders can register free of charge for an exemption (online from the council’s website). It means that, at school drop off and pick up times, families can walk, cycle or scoot safely to the school gates.
Cambridgeshire County Council’s approval for the scheme was presented to schools as an offer of support (with no obligation) which would fund staff training, signage and cones or barriers for all 240 schools in Cambridgeshire.
Which areas have tried this already?
It may sound radical to close roads, but the idea has really taken off. Even before the pandemic, there were around 131 School Streets schemes in the UK either fully implemented or going through the consultation phase. Among the local authorities using the scheme are Leeds, Southampton, Bristol, Bradford, Oxford, Manchester, Newcastle, Cumbria, Dumfriesshire, Lanarkshire and many London boroughs. In June 2020, the borough of Hackney alone announced that School Streets would be implemented at 40 more of its schools from September.
Evaluation reports from existing schemes have shown that motorised traffic not only decreases on the school street where the scheme has been implemented, but also on surrounding streets – suggesting a change in behaviour with people swapping their mode of transport to active travel.
How can my school apply?
By mid-July, 12 Cambridgeshire schools had confirmed their uptake of the School Streets scheme. The process of implementing Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders (ETROs), distributing resources and training marshalls takes a few weeks; once in place, the experimental scheme will run for 18 months.
Although Cambridgeshire’s initial round of funding and support for School Streets has now been fully allocated, funding is set to continue: in late July, the government committed to increasing School Streets across the country and enabling local authorities to enforce them properly.5
In the meantime, there are other effective ways in which road safety, active transport and clean air can be encouraged around schools.
1 Report from Global Action Plan for Clean Air Day, Department of Economics, University of Bath & University of Oxford, June 2018
2 Reported road casualties in Great Britain: 2017 report, Department for Transport, September 2018
3 ‘A primary school driven initiative to influence commuting style for dropping-off and picking-up of pupils’, Prashant Kumar, Hamid Omidvarborna, Francesco Pilla, Neil Lewin, March 2020
4 Department for Transport, Office for Low Emission Vehicles and The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, May 2020
5 ‘Gear change: a bold vision for cycling and walking’, Department for Transport, July 2020
- Talk about School Streets with other parents. To succeed, the scheme needs volunteers to support the school. Local councillors and MPs also need to know that the public is in favour: contact them via writetothem.com
- Encourage your school to become a Modeshift STARS accredited school. The council can provide free, supporting resources; for more information, email email@example.com
- Find more School Streets advice and resources for schools, parents and governors on our new campaign page at camcycle.org.uk/spacesforschools
- Discuss School Street schemes on Cyclescape thread 5261
How do the temporary measures work?
The council can implement schemes like School Streets under what are termed Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders (ETROs). This is like a permanent Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) in that it is a legal document which imposes traffic and parking restrictions such as road closures and assorted parking controls including single or double yellow lines. The ETRO can also be used to change the way existing restrictions function.
An ETRO can stay in force for a maximum of 18 months while the effects are monitored and assessed. Changes can be made during the first six months of the experimental period to any of the restrictions if necessary, before the council decides whether or not to continue with the changes brought in by the ETRO on a permanent basis.
It is not possible to lodge a formal objection to an ETRO until it is in force. Once it is in force, objections may be made to the order being made permanent and these must be made within six months of the day that the experimental order comes into force. This will speed up the overall process.
The approval to make an ETRO permanent would be made by the council’s Highways and Transport Committee, where any objections will be considered.
If an experimental order is changed, then objections may be made within six months of the day that the experimental order is changed.
How does this affect road users?
Initially, an ETRO is applied to a street around a school, temporarily restricting access by motorised vehicles. In effect, that street becomes a Pedestrian and Cycle Zone. Times for the restrictions are determined in agreement with the school. These can be for between 30- 45 minutes and only on weekdays and during term times.1
Depending on the type of ETRO, and agreement with the school and council, the wider community and residents who live and work on a school street are able to register free of charge for an exemption. Blue badge holders are exempt; exemption could also apply to temporary disabilities. Registration is done online (on the council’s website), just as with buying a parking permit. There is a consultation period during which residents around the school are asked their views.
Department for Transport-compliant signs informing drivers of the restrictions will be added at the entrance of the school street. Vehicles already parked in the street before the time of closure can be allowed to leave.
The ETRO would bring this change into force for a period of several months. At the end of this period, the project is evaluated, and a decision made as to whether the scheme should be made permanent through a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO).
What about enforcement?
Using the School Streets example again, councils can use physical barriers (such as bollards or retractable gates) to enforce the temporary restrictions; these are typically manned by a member of the school staff or parent volunteers. In London, councils can use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to enforce ‘moving traffic offences’, meaning that any drivers entering the zone at the restricted time without an exemption are identified and sent a fixed penalty notice.
Presently, only London boroughs can enforce School Streets using ANPR cameras. Local councils outside London do not have the powers to enforce ‘moving traffic offences’ applicable to a Pedestrian and Cycle Zone, which is what a school street is. Enforcement in these local authorities rests with the police, which can cause difficulties.
Since early in 2020, various groups (including MPs) have written to the Department for Transport to enquire about this inequality.2 The replies have progressed towards acknowledgement that these powers could help to deliver Covid-19 recovery plans and, when pressed in Parliament on the issue of enabling Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘I will’ [enable the relevant part of the Traffic Management Act 2004].3
Clearly, the government recognises that the context of Covid-19 means that there is an even more pressing need to enable parents to choose an alternative to public transport for the school run – but the Act which would allow local authorities to enforce schemes such as these has yet to be enabled outside London. Even within the Cambridgeshire region, there are discrepancies between the powers held by each local authority – the particular measures implemented by each different scheme will involve councils exercising a number of different methods of enforcement.
1 School Streets website: ‘How do they work?’
2 Ruth Cadbury MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Walking and Cycling Group, 7 May 2020
3Response to question from Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, House of Commons, 2 July 2020
Support for St Philip’s School Street
For many years the school run to St Philip’s has had problems. The school entrance is small and comes out onto Vinery Way at a width restriction where many large vehicles need to turn right outside the school. Customers of the local shop frequently park on the yellow school zig zags and children starting to make independent journeys to school on foot or by cycle are challenged by difficult situations and poor visibility. Pedestrians are hemmed in on a pavement that is narrowed by vehicles parking their wheels up over the kerb.
From September we are excited to be trialling a School Streets scheme for 18 months. To allow social distancing at the peak school times, the road outside the school is being transformed into a traffic-free area for half an hour twice a day. Journeys to school will have more space to spread across the road. This will have the added benefits of encouraging active travel and improving the air quality outside the school. It will be a huge benefit to all the families making their daily journey to school.
- To make the trial a success we need a team of volunteers to monitor the closure points in the mornings between from 8.30am to 9.00am and in the afternoons from 2.55pm to 3.30pm. You don’t need to be a parent or have a school connection but if you are able to commit to half an hour once a week (or even more) we would love to hear from you. If the trial is positive we are hopeful the council will invest in less labour intensive closure points but for now we are looking to fill 60 volunteer slots a week and any help is appreciated. Please send offers of support to Sarah Swire (Parent Governor) on firstname.lastname@example.org
Other temporary measures for safe cycling and walking
Modal filters/point closures
On the local road network to limit through traffic excepting pedestrians, cyclists, public transport and the emergency services
Removal of car parking
To provide physically segregated on-road cycle lanes and/or wider pavements
Reallocaion of traffic lanes
to accommodate bidirectional or contraflow cycle lanes
Removal of railings
where they inhibit movement or prevent physical distancing
Installation of cycle parking
Advice from the experts!
At our September monthly meeting we’ll be joined by Sylvia Gauthereau, a cycle campaigner from London, who has experience running School Streets in her area.