Why it’s time for more focus, funding and ambition on safer travel to school
We believe that now is the time for travel to and from school, and young people’s journeys, to become a central part of our city and regional transport & place-making plans.
While we are starting to see some welcome positive steps – it’s vital we make young people a more central part of the Bee Network story – both as key beneficiaries and participants informing plans.
We’re calling for a clearer vision for schools and young people at the heart of plans for our places – and would like to see targets for sustainable travel to school modes built into Bee Network plans, with ring-fenced funding, and packages of support for schools as lynchpins of active neighbourhoods, and key trip drivers.
There are positive elements to build on – temporary, volunteer-led ‘School Streets’* are taking place at an increasing number of schools in the region, and schools can apply for free bike training for pupils (in Manchester for instance) .
Last year TfGM announced £500k to support School Streets, and in Manchester councillors recently passed a motion to commit to ‘enabling children and their families to walk and cycle safely to school and parks’ as part of the Year of the Child, recognising the impact of increased traffic and need for more active travel.
But these measures seem disjointed; and as we’ll explore further on – the School Streets we do have, are sporadic, infrequent and reliant on volunteer parents. To really have an effect they need to be permanent and, crucially, part of a holistic package of support that includes changes to the public realm outside the school to make it safer, and other measures such as bike storage, travel planning and incentives.
How is travel to school changing?
Over the last 10 years, the percentage of trips to school by car in the North West increased dramatically, from 35% in 2012 to 56% in 2020, and walking decreased from 47% to 30%. Ironically, the main reason given for this is that parents are concerned about the dangers of traffic.
Because of course, the two things go hand in hand; roads around schools that are congested with traffic and the scene of poor or inconsiderate driving/ parking at drop off and pick times, are the No 1 reason parents are reluctant to let their child walk or ride.
And yet it is younger children who are the most likely to want to walk, scoot or cycle – because it is fun and sociable not necessarily because it’s good for them! Building activity into their daily life through the journey to school would help address increasing levels of childhood inactivity.
But we also know that in general
- there is widespread latent support for such school-centred measures from communities
- data shows when roads are made safer, walking and cycling rates to school increase almost immediately
- the school run is known to be a significant driver of short vehicle trips and pollution at peak time.
Where do School Streets fit in?
A School Street is a road outside a school with a temporary restriction on motorised traffic at school drop-off and pick-up times. The restriction applies to school traffic and through traffic, but not residents and businesses, who still have access. The result is a safer, healthier and more pleasant environment for everyone.
There are two very different approaches – and there seems confusion as to the difference and crucially what they are there to achieve.
- Temporary / Volunteer-led School Streets – where parents will apply for permission to close the street – up to 3 times a year – and marshall the traffic themselves voluntarily
- Permanent, Enforced School Streets – permanent school streets with related enforcement which mean drivers avoid the area without the need for volunteer marshalls – in force every weekday during term time
Any school can apply to the council to have a temporary or trial School Street on a particular day.
However, there often isn’t anything to advertise this on councils’ websites and most schools don’t know about them, or how to go about applying for one.
In Manchester, the process is actually fairly straightforward and free of charge, if obscure. The head teacher (or in some cases the Parent Teachers Association lead) needs to obtain a School Street application form from their Neighbourhood Officer, complete it for a particular date, then send in. This is then reviewed by the Highways Team and a Temporary Traffic Regulation Order (TTRO) granted for closing the roads at those specific times on that day.
School Streets are just one way of reducing traffic around the school zone – crucially they need to be done in conjunction with a whole other raft of interventions and behaviour change programmes with the school.
This might include encouraging parents to park further away and let their children walk part of the way (Park and Stride), putting in place an escorted route to school with adult volunteers (School Walking Bus) or giving pupils incentives and rewards for choosing active travel modes to come to school (through Living Streets’ Walk to School programme and/or Modeshift STARS).
They also need to be considered in terms of wider street design improvements for all residents in the area – this might include planters or other greening and ways of slowing traffic, plus barriers that prevent parents from parking on the pavement.
What is happening across GM?
If School Streets are to be successful, they need a committed head teacher who is prepared to let pupils and staff get involved and to have parents and residents on board, working with the school to make it happen. This can be daunting for schools to know where to start.
Walk Ride Whalley Range has been supporting a number of schools to run their school streets and produced a toolkit and templates for schools to get going. (Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to know more).
Some funding has been made available to progress Active Travel for schools. Last year, TfGM secured £500K for 50 schools across GM to enable boroughs to make some steps towards School Streets across GM.
Seven schools in Manchester who expressed an interest were selected to join the scheme.
Dame Sarah Storey, the new Active Travel Commissioner for GMCA, recently visited two of the eight schools that have been signed up in Wigan, several schools are involved in Trafford and Stockport and eight schools have put themselves forward in Tameside. But not all boroughs across the GM region have nominated schools for the scheme.
Most of the funding for these schemes is being managed by local councils’ Highways departments and will be used to cover the legal work required to create the appropriate traffic orders plus any necessary signage. The scheme is also supposed to provide accredited marshal training and resources for school staff and parent volunteers.
These TfGM funded pilots could be a great start – but they are in danger of becoming a wasted opportunity without greater framing, leadership and support.
In Manchester, the date for implementation has been repeatedly delayed (currently estimated to be Autumn 2022), but most concerningly – enquiries to the council have ascertained that the basis of the funding seems only to allow the seven Manchester schools to (direct quote) ‘understand whether they have the capacity to run this project and implement on a permanent basis’.
This appears to mean that all the funds are being used almost exclusively on the legal costs of applying for 6-month TTROs.
This is an even greater shame, considering the growing evidence that school streets really work to bring down driving and increase walking in cycling in some places where the street layout suits their use; hence we believe now is the time to set out a greater vision and pull together packages of support schools can access to affect overall journeys to school.
Separately TfGM has also launched a pilot Youth Travel Ambassador (YTA) programme which will provide young people aged 11 to 19 with the skills and confidence to address transport issues affecting their school community. With support from a TfGM Active Travel Officer and school staff, YTA teams of 6-12 pupils research and develop behaviour change campaigns, focusing on active travel.
But – to have the most chance of success – given we know unsafe streets are the biggest turn off for parents allowing kids to travel to school under their own steam – it is critical that initiatives that reduce overall traffic volume happen in parallel with infrastructure and legal schemes and enforcement so that interventions complement each other.
Making School Streets a success
There are many successful School Streets happening across the UK. By early 2022, over 500 School Streets were in place across London, and around 200 across the rest of England. There are two main reasons for their success, particularly in London:
- They are taking a borough-led approach rather than ad hoc schools trying to progress their own school street
- They don’t generally rely on volunteers to steward the school streets and stop non-exempt vehicles from passing through the zone
Increasingly, schools outside London are introducing Permanent School Streets (with Nottingham, Leeds and Birmingham leading the way) as part of their transport and environment plans due to the positive impact they have on travel to school rates, but more importantly overall neighbourhood safety, clean air, street cohesion.
But it seems in GM, School Streets are still positioned as a community-led activity rather than a partnership between community and council – in which the council would enforce the scheme and negate the need for volunteers – as is happening in other cities.
Although volunteer-enforced School Streets are running successfully, for example in Leeds, it cannot be stressed enough that this approach is generally not scaleable or desirable in the long term.
Enforcement for School Streets placed on voluntary efforts by parents and schools risks creating inequalities in provision, where parents with other commitments are not in a position to be available to act as volunteer stewards. The council’s and TfGM’s ‘leave-it-to-volunteers’ approach is, in effect, scaring both schools and parents off.
London boroughs have a more robust process in place, using their powers to enforce moving traffic violations through use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) to automate enforcement.
These powers are now to be granted to local authorities outside of London and Wales and should come into effect by July 2022 for those councils that have expressed an interest. If cost is an issue, there is no reason not to use a ‘resident’s parking only’ approach as they do around entertainment and sports venues, where the possibility of traffic enforcement is a sufficient deterrent.
Retractable bollards or gates are other mechanisms that can be used – and triggered at the flick of a switch.
Benefits of School Streets
The benefits of enabling mass walking, scooting or riding to school are many. Not only would it reduce the exposure of children to air pollution and traffic danger around the school zone, using active travel to get to school is good mental and physical health, as well as providing an opportunity for children to socialise and become more independent. It has even been proven to increase a child’s attainment.
School Streets can cut driving rates and increase walking and cycling rates significantly (data collected as part of the Our Streets Chorlton project showed cycling increase 70% and driving decrease 20% in a two-day event).
In summary: Our ask
With the government allocating new funding to GM to help children walk and ride to school and setting a new target of 55 % of primary school children walking to school by 2025, we need a much more joined-up and accelerated approach across Greater Manchester for the implementation of School Streets.
It’s important that further delays are not introduced by councils in GM trying to work out how to do a School Street programme for themselves – there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
School Streets are an uncontroversial and generally well received way of encouraging active travel. Leeds City Council has already been through the process, as has Birmingham City Council and Hackney Council has also produced a useful toolkit for School Streets. We need to take their learning and apply it quickly and at scale.
And, as WalkRide GM, we will continue to campaign for permanent School Streets across the region.
We will also be taking steps to support and connect those schools, parents and volunteers already involved in trials and will work with other agencies to facilitate and maximise this.
We believe that enabling children to make safer, healthier trips to and from school needs to part of Manchester’s Year of the Child and should be built into the city’s stated policy, funding framework and transport plan, for instance by:
- Setting a goal for changing travel to school rates for different age groups, and in line with the government’s target
- Identifying a specific bid for funding from TfGM/ GMCA for the first tranche of Permanent School Streets in GM, in Manchester with a description of how new moving traffic offences enforcement powers would be used
- Making a clear call for support from the mayor and active travel commissioner for this policy to be wrapped into the ‘Our Bee Network’ plan and funding
If you have any questions about School Streets please get in touch with email@example.com.