Sign up to scheme to make roads safe outside schools in Sheffield
The name we give to a ‘road closure’ depends partly on your height – it can look very different to children.
“It’s awesome! We can play on the street.” Georgina Simons describes how the pupils of Greystones Primary School reacted to the school’s ‘street party’ day last week, when the road outside the school gates was closed to motor traffic, and, more importantly, opened to children for National Road Safety Week.
“The children were coming round the corner and saying ‘Oh wow, no cars!’ and thinking there’s all this space to be free and walk safely.”
Georgina and her colleagues from the city’s Modeshift STARS team have been working with primary and secondary schools around Sheffield to help encourage more walking, cycling and scooting to school. But since the reopening of schools in September, congestion at some school gates has reached dangerous levels, they say.
A combination of staggered start times, a reluctance to use public transport and anxiety about social distancing has led to some parents and carers parking on double yellow lines and safety zig zags, and ‘stopping and dropping’ where the car stops in the street and the kids get out while the parent stays inside.
For children little taller than the car bonnet, all this can be extremely dangerous, says Georgina, and at some schools has almost led to injuries.
“People parking on double yellows and zig zags don’t realise the restricted view that gives for others,” she says. “It’s about people taking responsibility for their own and for other children.”
It’s also about enabling kids to get the health and educational benefits of walking and cycling to school more often, and reducing pollution at the school gates, she says.
One of her Modeshift activities with younger pupils is to wipe lampposts outside the school with cotton wool at different heights.
“You can then see how much gunk there is left on the lamppost at the height of a child or a baby in a pram, and how it’s not so bad at the height of an adult,” she explains. By no means a scientific experiment, she adds, but it does make people think about air pollution at the school gate.
The Modeshift STARS teams work out walking distances and present a map to parents, so they can park five minutes away if they need to drive to school, and walk the rest to reduce congestion and pollution.
“If you think about it, it’s better if you can’t see the school when you get out of the car, because then your exhaust fumes aren’t chugging out into the playground,” says Georgina.
Walking to school is about life skills too, says Rosie Frazer from Modeshift STARS. “If you’re only ever dropped at the school gates, where are you learning about crossing the road, or about feeling a bit tired on your walk, and then carrying on?”
Chris Jennings, head teacher at Greystones, says the day road closure outside the school was overwhelmingly supported by parents, one of whom reported: “My children said ‘it was the best day ever!’”
“The residents on Tullibardine Road were so supportive too - there wasn't one objection,” he says.
The school had seen parking problems over recent months, rectified by sending letters and talking to parents, he adds.
Chris says he’d support the idea of a ‘school street’ scheme outside Greystones, where more permanent motor traffic exclusions at school drop off and pick up times are set in place, but would need to work carefully with residents beforehand.
The city council and Sheffield City Region hope to increase the number of ‘school streets’ around Sheffield over coming months and years, but schools need to demonstrate their interest first by working with the Modeshift team.
“There needs to be some careful planning about how we make the access to schools less congested, how we reduce pollution levels and how we make the roads safer for children and parents coming in to school,” Chris says.
The opening of the road to children and families last week shows a way forward, says Georgina. “One parent said “I feel like crying! Why can’t it be like that every day?’
Secondary and primary schools wanting to get involved can email [email protected]