Review: Healthy, Happy, Hazard-Free School Streets in Whalley Range
Words by Jack Hunter (Walk Ride Whalley Range)
Last week, Walk Ride Whalley Range supported two local primary schools to organise a school street for Clean Air Day. With permission from Manchester City Council (MCC), streets around each school were closed to traffic for drop-off and pick-up times (with exceptions made for residents, deliveries and emergency services).
It was great! Roads that are normally choking with car fumes were instead filled with smiling kids doing cartwheels, dancing, drawing on the tarmac and riding bikes and scooters. For a day, at least, the school run was no longer a nightmare but a vision of a better future.
Here’s a few reflections from the day, and some pointers for anyone wanting to do the same.
We took the initiative
A one-off school street needs a team of willing volunteers, along with consultation with residents and the school community. Even though the council will almost certainly be supportive, budget constraints means it’s still up to residents and schools to organise most of this – so we figured there’s no sense in waiting for someone else to sort it out – we just got on with it!
That’s not to say that our council wasn’t supportive – in fact the opposite is true. The local neighbourhood team at MCC made sure that the paperwork was approved as quickly as possible, and our councillors and officers even came out to man the closure points.
It was surprisingly easy to do…
Closing a school road can feel like a daunting task, but the reality is that, once you make the decision to do it, it’s actually very straightforward. Yes, it needs a bit of thinking about how best to manage traffic that will need to be diverted, and effective organisation to ensure that people and road signs are where they’re supposed to be, but nothing is too stressful.
And if you get stuck, there’s lots of information and advice online (see playingout.net, for example).
And everyone loves it…
From local residents, to the staff at each school, to the PTA, to kids and their families, there was a huge appetite for measures to improve air quality and road safety at either end of the school day. Sure, there might have been one or two individuals upset that their normal routine is disrupted but the overwhelming response was epitomised in the words of one parent:
“This is great – why can’t we do it every day?”
We’d suggest finding ways to capture the level of support – for example we took photos, spoke to parents and organised a simple survey of residents to gauge interest in more regular closures.
It was sad to go back to normal…
The day after, of course, the traffic was back to normal, the air was full of fumes, and children were forced to squeeze past cars parked across the pavement to get into school. It was clear evidence that one-off interventions on their own make little or no difference to the status quo. One resident said that, when she asked a driver to switch off their idling engine the day after the closure, she was told: “Why? It’s not Clean Air Day any more…”
…but we’re keeping the momentum
No-one wants a one-off, ad hoc approach to school safety. So we have a plan to keep up the momentum. We are already talking to one of the schools about holding another School Street event in July. And we’re working with the other school, who have already held several one-off school streets, to apply for permission for weekly closures.
All the time, we’re building trust and relationships between schools, residents, families and the council, which will make it easier to have conversations about more permanent changes, not just outside the school gate but across the entire neighbourhood.
And every step we take hopefully brings us closer to the vision of a healthy, happy and hazard-free journey to school for all of our children.
If you’d like to learn more about Walk Ride Whalley Range, please get in touch via email@example.com.
If you live elsewhere in Greater Manchester, check our list of local groups, and if there isn’t one where you live then get in touch with Walk Ride GM for support on how to go about finding people who also want to improve their streets and forming a Walk Ride subgroup together – firstname.lastname@example.org.