‘School streets’ schemes making school journeys safer and cleaner

‘School streets’ schemes have increased five-fold in less than four years and deliver low-cost interventions for cleaner, safer journeys to schools world-wide, according to new global analysis by the Child Health Initiative’s Global Advocacy Hub.

The report is published to coincide with the United Nations High Level Meeting on the New Urban Agenda, a policy prescription for cities agreed in 2016 which includes a commitment to deliver ‘safe and healthy journeys to school for every child’.

‘School streets: putting children and the planet first’ is a first-of-its-kind analysis to take a global overview of the 1,250 school street improvements in at least 15 countries which restrict vehicle movement to protect the journey to and from school. School streets are timed, or sometimes permanent, car-free areas outside schools to create space for pupils to walk, cycle, socialise and play safely. Currently the schemes are mainly focused in Europe, with over half in the UK, and increasing numbers in North America. The schemes expanded rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic as low-cost and quickly implementable ways to provide new spaces for social distancing.

While most school streets begin as temporary pilots, a large number have been made permanent school term interventions in response to parent popularity, increased active travel and improved air quality. Previous research funded by the FIA Foundation showed that in London school streets saw up to a 23% reduction in emissions around participating schools. Other reported benefits include increased social connections, tranquility, road safety and physical activity levels.

The report takes a political economy approach to understand why school streets are successful, including bold political leadership and broad local stakeholder collaboration. Currently, school streets are mostly focused in high-income countries where road safety measures already exist, but the report makes the case for expansion to other contexts. Tirana in Albania is an example of how school streets can be implemented in low- and middle-income countries, in a project supported by the Global Designing Cities Initiative’s Streets for Kids programme. The report includes practical considerations for other authorities considering school streets as well as compiling resources available from around the world.

School streets, the report concludes, should be a key policy consideration for urban decisionmakers for the benefit of children and planet, as part of a range of steps to measure and address road safety and air quality, including 30km/h zones to deliver ‘streets for life.’

Saul Billingsley, Executive Director of the FIA Foundation which hosts the Child Health Initiative said: “Every parent knows the importance of safe and healthy journeys to school. Creating safe, clean environments on the journey to school is the least we should do for our children. It is encouraging that the ‘school streets’ model has taken off in many countries. We urge policymakers to expand these schemes which improve road safety, reduce vehicle emissions, and tackle the climate emergency. As the UN meets for the High Level Meeting on the New Urban Agenda, we remind governments and mayors that they have signed up to ensure safe and healthy journeys for every child. This is a practical way to deliver.”

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