Thu. Jun 1st, 2023

When children travel to school, an environment with safe roads and clean air should be a given, but in many places in the world it is not. A new initiative aims to change that by addressing congestion, speed reduction, and air quality.

The program, “School Streets,” is based on timed or permanent restrictions in car-free areas outside schools, utilizing low-cost, easy-to-implement interventions to regulate vehicle traffic and create space for kids to walk, cycle, socialize and play safely.

It has increased five-fold in less than four years.

Those are the highlights of a new report, “School Streets: Putting Children And The Planet First,” published earlier this month by the FIA Foundation, a nonprofit based in London, and the Child Health Initiative, a coalition of road safety, child rights, and urban development organizations.

“Every parent knows the importance of safe and healthy journeys to school,” Saul Billingsley, executive director of the FIA Foundation, which coordinates the Child Health Initiative, said in a statement. “Creating safe, clean environments on the journey to school is the least we should do for our children. It is encouraging that the ‘school streets’ model has taken off in many countries.”

The two organizations called the “School Streets” report “a first-of-its-kind analysis to take a global overview.” Currently, there are about 1,250 “School Streets” (or similar) programs that restrict vehicle movement to protect the journey to and from school in at least 15 countries. Most are in Europe. While more than half are in the United Kingdom, there are a significant number in Belgium and France, and are increasing in Italy and in North America.

The first “School Streets” began in Italy in the late 1980s and others started to be carried out about thirty years later. Since then, the numbers have gradually increased. Programs expanded rapidly during the Covid-19 pandemic as low-cost and quick-to-implement ways to provide new spaces for social distancing were widely adopted.

Most programs began as temporary pilots, however many have been made permanent. Road safety, increased social connections, better air quality, improved physical activity levels and an overall more peaceful journey were cited as some of the main benefits, according to the analysis.

Many of the cities that embraced “School Streets” have had significant issues with air pollution.

London’s program saw up to a 23% reduction in emissions around participating schools, a report issued in March 2021 by the FIA Foundation showed.

Today, most programs are focused in high-income countries where some road safety measures previously existed, but the report detailed how the program can be successfully adopted in low- and middle-income countries, citing Tirana, Albania as an example.

The report includes practical information and guidance from around the world to help governments and other authorities implement “School Street” programs in their respective regions.

“We urge policymakers to expand these schemes which improve road safety, reduce vehicle emissions, and tackle the climate emergency,” Billingsley added, noting that safe and healthy journeys should be ensured for every child. “This is a practical way to deliver.”

To read the “School Streets: Putting Children And The Planet First” report and supporting materials, click here and here.

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