For many of us, the words ‘school run’ and ‘nightmare’ are near-synonyms.
UK car registrations have doubled since the 1990s, and the accompanying rise in car use for the school run has resulted in congestion, poor air quality and danger outside schools. This is a catch-22: as streets have become more dangerous, parents have become less inclined to let their children walk or cycle to school.
But there is a solution. School Streets are roads with schools in them, which are temporarily shut to traffic. This makes it easier and safer for children to walk, scoot or cycle to school, while improving air quality and reducing danger. School Streets have become increasingly popular around the UK in recent years, and since 2020 have been operating at some school sites in Brighton & Hove.
On Thursday 27 May, Brighton & Hove City Council put on a School Street taster day at Westdene Primary, and Bricycles committee members Andrea Vinicombe and David Porter went to help out.
These photos demonstrate the impact of a School Street. The first is the usual situation outside the school at pick-up time: most of the cars are driven by parents collecting their children. The second is from the taster day when the road was closed from 8am to 4pm. The difference is striking – there’s so much space!
Volunteers manned the barriers, leaving the road free for children to cross safely, play and ride in. Children were literally lying down on the tarmac, to experience the thrill of having the road to themselves.
Children came out of school in groups for three activities. The first was an opportunity to chalk on the road. They could draw themselves, contribute to a larger design, or just go free-form!
In the second activity, cycling and walking charity Sustrans taught the children about pollution, including how lichen can be used to monitor air quality. The children used microscopes to see pollution close up, adding to previous classwork where they collected evidence from different sites near the school. Unsurprisingly, pollution levels were higher on traffic-filled roads than the closed road.
A really popular activity was a 20-minute cycling session with Sustrans, where children rode an obstacle course on the closed road, then whizzed down the hill. We lost count of how many said, ‘This is so much fun!’ Volunteers gave less confident riders individual lessons, and more confident cyclists were challenged to wave while riding (therefore riding one-handed) or to ride standing up. The children made huge progress in just twenty minutes and many didn’t want to leave.
Throughout the day, council officers and volunteers asked parents and residents how they felt the School Street impacted on the school run. This gave people a unique opportunity to share their thoughts about the school run and say what they would like for the future. The survey results will help inform the council about how to improve the situation for everyone.
At the end of the day there was a party atmosphere outside the school, with parents, volunteers, staff and children lingering in the road to chat and play. The day was thought-provoking for many. Music was put on, the sun was shining and most people were asking the question – when can we do this again?