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Don’t Pollute the School Route: The case for “School Streets”

There is a catastrophe on the horizon as schools look set to go back next week. Not just because of covid, masks, and social distancing, but the return of the school run, a currently car-heavy routine that will see clouds of pollution descend back in front of our school gates.

School Streets were due to be in place by the return to school, as part of the Low Traffic Neighbourhood trials. However, with those trials put back until who knows when, at this moment Manchester City Council have no plans to reduce traffic around schools to make the school run safer and nicer for children in our area.

To tell us more about these concerns, Streets for People are happy to have the backing of local parent Helen Rimmer, from Clean Air Levenshulme.

Why we need School Streets in Levenshulme and Burnage:

Across the country schools are closing their roads to cars, making the journey to school safer, encouraging active travel and cutting air pollution and congestion.

School Streets are temporary closure of the roads around schools, for around 30 mins at school drop-off and pick-up times. In the Covid19 era, local authorities have been instructed by the government to be “strongly promoting active travel” including “implementing ‘safe streets’ policies outside schools” (Department for Education, August 2020). 

In Levenshulme and Burnage we need School Streets for every school where it’s possible, and a big push to promote active travel to school. The school run typically accounts for one in five of all cars on the road in the morning rush hour according to the National Travel Survey. Our community suffers illegal levels of air pollution along the A6 and monitoring by local parents has found high air pollution throughout our community including near schools and nurseries. Walking and cycling also exposes children to less air pollution than driving. Asthma expert Prof Stephen Holgate says evidence shows pollution is nine to 12 times higher inside a car than outside, as cars suck in exhaust fumes from vehicles ahead.

Air pollution is particularly harmful to children, stunting the development of young lungs, and is linked to first time asthma and worsening asthma symptoms. Central Manchester has the highest rate of emergency hospital admissions for asthma in the whole country. Anecdotal evidence from parents in Levenshulme and Burnage indicates high incidences of wheezing, respiratory conditions, and use of inhalers amongst babies and toddlers.

School Streets would also make access to school safer for children, freeing school gates from the chaos of traffic congestion, pavement driving and parking, and idling, and would give space to parents and carers for social distancing during the Covid19 pandemic. Access is maintained for any children or carers with mobility issues and for residents. Parents who still need to drive (such as for work) are encouraged to ‘park and stride ’, finding a parking space a 10 min walk away from the school. Initiatives such as walking buses, can also help busy parents.

Concerns that School Street closures would displace traffic elsewhere are not backed up by research. A recent review of evidence by Edinburgh Napier University found that for almost all examples of School Streets, the total number of cars on streets in the vicinity of schools decreased significantly. It also found that School Streets improve air quality, congestion and physical activity amongst children as more walk, scoot or cycle to school. Around 80% of children currently fail to meet the minimum daily recommendation for exercise. Parents would also benefit from regular exercise, especially now during the government’s drive to get people fit during the pandemic.

One Greater Manchester primary school which is determined to enable children to have a safer, more active and less polluted school run is Russell Scott Primary in Denton. Headteacher Steve Marsland held a School Street closure last year and says “We wanted to win back the street and tell the community the world doesn’t stop when a road is closed. It showed roads can be closed and children can ride scooters on them.” By educating parents there has been an 80% increase in the number of children walking to school in just eighteen months.

For many parents in Levenshulme and Burnage, School Streets can’t come soon enough. We hope our council will show leadership and enable children to arrive at school happy, healthy, refreshed and ready to learn.

***

Thanks to Helen again for this vital post. If you want to support for a Low Traffic Neighbourhood (including school streets) in Levenshulme and Burnage and live in the local area, you can help by signing our collective letter to councillors and local leaders.

Help us get these measures trialled!

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