To school by bike, on foot and safely. What can we take from school streets around the world? - Do práce na kole

To school by bike, on foot and safely. What can we take from school streets around the world?

To school by bike, on foot and safely. What can we take from school streets around the world?
27. 2. 2024, 11 min. čtení

“Nothing seems to change until it suddenly does,” writes Duncan Green in his book How Change Happens. The sharp increase in so-called school streets around the world in recent years is a vivid example of how urban changes often take place in a non-linear fashion and completely change the face of cities. What can school streets inspire us? And why should we want them too?

Ten years ago you would have counted them on the fingers of one hand, today there are more than a thousand school streets in more than a dozen states. Many of them were created during the covid pandemic as a response to the limited capacity of public transport and the need for space for safe distancing.

Cities such as London, Paris, New York and Milan have taken the necessary steps to rid the roads in front of their schools of cars. It thus confirmed already existing statistics that school streets increase traffic safety, air quality and support active transportation. In short, they create a safer and healthier environment for our children.

What is school street?

The area in front of the school building where motor vehicles are prohibited or restricted. In most cases, they operate from the beginning to the end of the school day or at times when children arrive or leave school. Some of them are permanently closed to cars. See also more at: https://auto-mat.cz/31456/zklidnovani-dopravy-skolni-ulice-v-praze

The report by the non-profit Child Health Initiative (CHI) documents not only a fivefold increase in the number of school streets between 2019 and 2022. It also seeks to understand the economic and political factors that have enabled this rapid transformation, analyzing the ideas, institutions and incentives that have influenced the school street boom across the the world.

While school streets used to appear exclusively in developed countries, today they are also widely implemented in Africa, Asia and Latin America with the intention of increasing safety. Let us take as an example this one in Mumbai, India. The CHI report shares practical advice and resources about school streets that any city can adapt to local conditions and circumstances. The surge in the number of school streets brings four key components of  urban transformation for our children. Each of them is further expanded and explained by the author with other principles and experiences from the practice of developing school streets. Let’s take a look at them.

1. Children first

Statistics from around the world show that a large proportion of children’s injuries in traffic accidents happen near schools: in Chile, 95% of them occur within 500 m of a school.

School streets provide space for safe and active travel, social contact and play. Ultimately, this means we should design streets with children in mind, rather than prioritizing cars. And the Global Designing Cities Initiative’s Guide to Designing Streets for Children provides a number of examples of how this can be achieved.

Car-free streets reduce noise, stress, pollution and the risk of injury. Evaluations show a measurable positive impact, such as reducing air pollution around schools in London by almost a quarter and increasing physical activity levels. Staying on such a street is more pleasant, supports physical health and mental well-being, and at the same time benefits the climate.

A safe space in front of school is also good for relationships and mental health

2. Trying new approaches and sharing experiences

Simple ideas are easy to replicate: School streets are a simple idea that is relatively inexpensive to try. The experimental approach—sometimes called “tactical urbanism”—makes radical change relatively easy to experience and evaluate. Temporary street closures can be tested using simple means such as mobile barriers.

Some school streets use technology (such as automatic fine enforcement using license plate cameras) to reduce the number of people – usually volunteers – who enforce the rules. Although this increases the initial costs, it reduces the ongoing organizational burden. One of the key forces behind the expansion of school streets has been the number of organizations that have dedicated their time to sharing their know-how with others to draw from, including creating toolkits and sharing practical experience.

For example, we have the London Borough of Hackney toolkit, as well as others from Belgium, Canada and the US, which have inspired other states and cities to try out the idea of ​​school streets. Experience also shows that school streets work best on roads with less traffic, including areas where speed limits are already in place, such as 30km/h zones. Alternative safety measures and physical changes need to be implemented on high traffic streets.

3. The time is know

The school’s school street can be seen as an idea whose time has come. From very low numbers in less than a handful of countries in 2012 to more than a thousand in many countries around the world in ten years. The pandemic has forced cities to act. And many of them were motivated by the need to create additional space outside of schools for safe gatherings, as well as safe walking and cycling routes.

Politicians and authorities in many cities saw it as an opportunity to make a difference and prepare for a better future. Some cities were able to significantly expand already existing car free zones, while others were inspired by the experiences of their neighbors during their first implementation. Courageous politicians are also essential for approving the relevant documents and bringing the right stakeholders together to reach an agreement.

After cities have tried school streets, the next stage is permanent change. Initially, temporary school streets can be implemented using cheap means, but over time, budgets can be allocated for permanent transformations and landscaping, such as those introduced in Paris, for example. While many cities have opted for time-based traffic restrictions, some cities such as Barcelona and Tirana have instead implemented physical road layout changes (such as lane removal) to limit the space that vehicles can use and transform the street into a space for people.

Sustainable transportation to school is a topic that needs to be addressed

4. Changes at the level of the entire city

The report also advises investing in proven road infrastructure measures: School streets can make the area around schools safer for walking and cycling, but are most effective when they are part of a comprehensive network for active travel, including safe cycle lanes, sidewalks and crossings, and low speeds when people and vehicles interact. The World Health Organization calls these calm streets Streets for Life.

During the pandemic, many cities have taken a number of measures that have brought many benefits to everyone. Whether it’s Bogotá, Fortaleza, New York or Paris, cities that have taken a comprehensive approach have reduced injuries, encouraged the transition to active travel and made their cities more livable for all.

One of the reasons why the idea of ​​school streets took off in Europe was the growing awareness of the impact of air pollution on health. Recent air quality measurements in Prague did not go well at all. As part of the May challenge, AutoMat also opens the Bike to School challenge every year. However, pupils and students need suitable conditions for safe and active travel to school.

Around 1 billion children go to school in cities every day. However, all residents and visitors benefit from school streets. It’s high time that they started to gain ground in our country too.

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