The nationwide School Streets scheme makes it safer for children to walk and cycle to school – and Cambridgeshire County Council are funding it in our area.
What is a School Street?
A School Street is a road outside a school with a temporary restriction on motorised traffic at school drop-off and pick-up times. The restriction applies to both school traffic and other motor traffic travelling along the road. The result is a safer, healthier and more pleasant environment for school children and residents, which helps more families choose walking and cycling for their daily journeys.
Why is the School Street initiative becoming more popular?
Increasing the number of children who walk, cycle or scoot to school would save the NHS £1.1 billion per year in health costs. It could help us save the lives of hundreds of children killed on our roads each year 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 triples at school run times.
In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic prompted an urgent need to move more people towards more active travel – in an attempt to improve people’s health, reduce air pollution, free up space on public transport and prevent a car-based recovery with increased congestion. In May 2020, the UK Government announced a £250 emergency active travel fund and instructed local councils to implement supportive measures. In response, Cambridgeshire County Council wrote to all 240 schools in the region offering the chance to apply for the School Streets scheme.
The precedent for this was already set: School Streets were already in place in many London boroughs (as of January 2021, there are now nearly 400 schemes across the capital) and in other local authorities including Leeds, Southampton, Bristol, Bradford, Oxford, Manchester, Newcastle, Cumbria, Dumfriesshire and Lanarkshire.
What’s happened in Cambridgeshire?
Seven schools in Cambridgeshire began School Street schemes in September 2020. They were Alconbury Primary, Hartford Junior in Huntingdon, Hatton Park Primary in Longstanton, St Philips C of E Primary in Cambridge, Weatheralls Primary in Soham, Willingham Primary and Wisbech St Mary Academy.
Since then a further six have joined the scheme: Park Street, St Matthews and The Spinney Primary Schools (all in Cambridge), and Barton C of E Primary School, Fulbourn Primary School and Elm Road Primary School, Wisbech (all outside the city).
Do School Streets work?
In October 2020, we visited St Philips C of E Primary School on Vinery Road, Cambridge, to see their School Street in action (see video below). Motor vehicle access is restricted twice a day at drop-off and pick-up times (although 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.
Members of the community say this has made a huge improvement to families’ safety, with parents reporting that they are now confident to let their Year 5 children make independent journeys. Headteacher Sally Allan said:
“We are delighted with the School Streets scheme. The road outside the school is calmer and safer for everyone and makes for a good start and end to the school day. The safety of our children is paramount, and this scheme enables them to walk safely in the road and be socially distanced from other families. The feedback from local residents has also been positive and we thank them for their support; it’s been a great success all round.”
Anecdotal evidence shows that many families in Romsey that used to drive are now choosing active travel to get to school and this is being borne out in figures from new schemes in London. Nationally, 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. This suggests that they are an effective way of prompting behaviour change.
How do we get a School Street?
The first step towards a School Street scheme is contacting your school’s headteacher and gathering community support for the initiative. Participating schools need a committed team of volunteers to close the road each morning and afternoon using temporary barriers such as modal filters. The process takes around half an hour.
The next step is convincing the local council. In June 2020, Cambridgeshire County Council Highways and Transport Committee approved county-wide support for School Streets – so all schools in the region have support in principle. Initial funding was allocated last year and the council is now considering funding and support for applications on a case by case basis.
Once a school has agreed that it would like to implement a School Street, has enough volunteers to staff it and has contacted the council, a risk assessment will be made of the roads around the school to ascertain whether or not they are suited to the scheme. If there is a suitable road, the council’s highways team will begin the process of distributing resources, training marshals and implementing an Emergency Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO) so that the road closure can begin.
Experimental schemes will run for 18 months. During this time, it is important that community support for the School Street continues to maximise the chances of the initiative being made permanent.
Start your campaign
2) Get support from your headteacher and local community (the latter is particularly important for consultation during the scheme’s trial period). If your headteacher needs encouraging, you can use this letter template.
3) Apply for council support. Contact Lyn Hesse, Senior Road Safety Officer, Cambridgeshire County Council Highways Services tel. 01223699499 email: Lyn.Hesse@cambridgeshire.gov.uk
Maintain support for your School Street
Parents, teachers, residents – anyone can write to local councillors in support of the initiative. Invite them to visit the school at peak times both before the scheme is implemented and once it is in place.
Contact us: we’d love to hear about and help publicise your School Street!
Show your support by becoming a volunteer. More people are needed to help at St Philips, for example, so if you can spare half an hour or more a week, then email firstname.lastname@example.org
What if the scheme isn’t approved?
First of all, speak to the council about alternatives for your school. There are a number of national initiatives which encourage active travel to and from schools. For example, the council can provide information and free, supporting resources to encourage your school to become a Modeshift STARS accredited school. Parents, teachers, governors, residents – anyone interested in road safety and sustainable school travel plans can promote this. Contact: email@example.com