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Parents praise School Streets pilot which made roads quieter and calmer

A new report backs a radical car-free experiment to reduce pollution outside two Sheffield schools.

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During the experiment Bannerdale Road was closed to cars from 8:15-9:15 and 14:45-15:45.

Parents at two Sheffield primary schools have said an experiment to restrict car access during pick-up and drop-off times made streets quieter, calmer and more open.

Carterknowle Juniors and Holt House Infants launched a week-long School Streets pilot in November 2019 to see if they could improve air quality and encourage more families to walk to school.

4 out of 5 families opted for active travel options including walking, cycling and scooting during the week according to a report on the trial that has just been released.

“There were some teething problems on the first day but once people who use the road were aware of the closure, there was a real difference around the peak hours," said one local resident.

"The road was not only quieter, but it also felt more open and calmer.”

The aim of School Streets schemes is to reduce air pollution and congestion caused my parents dropping their children off outside the school gates by closing roads to cars at specific times.

Pioneered in Italy in 1989, the idea was introduced to some Scottish schools in 2015 and has been rolled out to dozens of schools across London since 2017.

In permanent schemes, restrictions are usually enforced by removable bollards operated by school staff or number plate recognition cameras.

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Parents were asked how they felt about air quality at the two schools.

Dr Amy Barnes, a parent and a lecturer in public health at the University of Sheffield, believes that the pilot has changed how parents and children perceive public space.

“By working together, we learned that School Streets can create a new local space for children and families to play, interact, feel safe, be active and be independent," she said.

"Ensuring all children and families have opportunities to access healthy School Streets in a time of Covid-19 will require bold leadership but Sheffield can seize the opportunity."

The report found that the pilot, which closed part of Bannerdale Road from 8:15-9:15 and 14:45-15:45, displaced a small number of commuters onto nearby roads, increasing congestion there.

But it said that other interventions could alleviate this problem while making the School Streets scheme on Bannerdale Road permanent.

Dr Maria Val Martin, a parent and atmospheric scientist at the University of Sheffield, said that the effects of the trial on air quality were "inconclusive."

"We’d need a much longer period of time to show if there’s a sustained impact on air pollution reductions," she said.

"However, we know from NO2 readings during the 2020 lockdown that the reduced traffic resulted in consistently lower NO2 levels compared to the averages from 2016-19.”

The report found that the pilot was received positively by the majority of families who took part in active travel events and citizen science projects throughout the week.

"The trial closure was literally a breath of fresh air," said one parent.

"This is the first time it feels like the children have been put first by making them more visible and reducing the traffic, and therefore pollution they are breathing in."

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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