School streets schemes are increasingly being used across the UK as towns, cities and local authorities work to tackle congestion, air quality and road safety issues outside schools. In a school streets scheme, non-residential traffic is restricted, but residents, service vehicles and other exempt traffic (such as parents or children with disabilities) have vehicle access during the restricted times.
By restricting motor traffic at drop-off and pick-up times, many of the barriers to active travel can be eased, making walking, cycling and scooting to school a safer, easier and more attractive option. At the same time, school streets schemes can improve air quality and benefit local residents who are affected by high volumes of traffic at school drop-off and pick-up times.
A pledge was made in our Climate Emergency Action Plan 2021 to promote a car-free day, and the Sustrans Schools Officers were asked to put together a proposal for a school streets pilot scheme that would help deliver this pledge. In partnership with the our Road Safety Team and with support from Plymotion, Councillor Jonathan Drean, Cabinet Member for Transport, and Councillor Maddi Bridgeman, Cabinet Member for Environment and Street Scene, a pilot school streets programme was put forward with a focus on schools with road safety concerns.
Safer school streets pilots were held in November 2021 at the following schools:
- Wednesday 17 November: Mary Dean's CoE Primary
- Thursday 18 November: Ernesettle Community School
- Friday 19 November: Whitleigh Community Primary
- Monday 22 November : Stuart Road Primary
- Tuesday 23 November: Elburton Primary
- Wednesday 24 November: St Paul's Primary
The closures were held for around 1.5 hours at morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up times, which differed from school to school. Management of the closures was a partnership between Sustrans, our Road Safety team, Plymotion, our Sustainable Transport team and the police. Our Civil Enforcement Officers were also present to monitor the parking situation outside the road closures. Other staff members were present on the street to ensure residents and other exempt vehicles driving through the closure travelled at a safe speed. Ward councillors and school staff, including head teachers, also attended and provided invaluable support in engaging with parents, residents and members of the public. Parents were informed in advance through the schools by letter, newsletter and text message reminder. Residents were informed through a letter drop and by copies of the order on lamp posts.
The road closures ran very smoothly as they were well-staffed and the planning process had taken into account as many eventualities as possible. There was a high level of compliance with the closure points, and resident and exempt traffic kept to a low speed or walking pace while travelling through the closed street. In all but one school there was a huge increase of families 'parking and striding' for the school journey, and also an increase in families walking, scooting or cycling directly from home.
Feedback from residents, school staff and parents on the day was overwhelmingly positive, with many praising the scheme and how much safer it felt coming to school without the heavy traffic and inconsiderate parking that is usually on the street. As expected, there were also negative comments on the day, but the positive comments far outweighed the negative. Overall, motorists were highly compliant and understanding of the scheme. The scheme had attracted a lot of media interest beforehand and BBC Spotlight covered the first closure with a positive piece that included a balanced mix of comments from parents. Other highway authorities, like Somerset, have approached our Road Safety Team asking for advice and to share best practice regarding the one-day school street closures. The partnership work with Sustrans and the police was found to be very effective by all who took part.