Many primary schools in London are located in areas where NO2 pollution exceed EU limits. With particular health risks for children, Hackney Council has started a new School Street initiative to encourage walking and cycling to school
Air quality in London has improved in recent years as a result of policies to reduce emissions, primarily from road transport. However, ‘Analysing Air Pollution Exposure in London’, an independent air quality report commissioned in early 2013 by the Greater London Authority, found that there is currently significant exposure of the London population to levels of NO2 above the EU limit value.
Children are particularly at risk given their greater susceptibility to the health impact from excessive vehicular pollution, such as developing asthma. Average pollution levels within a radius of 150m around each primary school were measured, showing that a total of 433 of London’s 1,777 primary schools were located in areas where NO2 pollution exceeded EU limits. Of those 433 schools, 27 were in Hackney.
St John the Baptist Primary School was in the top 100 worst hit schools for nitrogen dioxide levels in the capital. It has been selected to launch a new scheme to remove the majority of traffic from around the school entrance, so cutting pollution and making it safer and easier to walk and cycle to school.
The vast majority of pupils already walk and cycle to school, but too many still make the journey by car.
The street outside the school in Hoxton has been closed to most of the traffic in the mornings and afternoons. A street party was held on the launch day, 26 June, to show how the space can be reclaimed from the cars.
It becomes a pedestrian and cycle zone from 8.30-9.15am and 3.15-4.00pm during term time. The signs fold to become covered when the zone is not in operation, i.e. during school holidays.
The scheme is supported by the majority of parents and residents who responded to the public consultation. People who live and have businesses on the street are still able to drive down the street if they register their vehicle with the council.
Non‑registered vehicles entering the street during the closures will be identified by camera and issued a fixed penalty notice. It is too early yet to have any results, but talking to parents and pupils, they are very positive about the effect of having less traffic
around the school.
As part of the monitoring of the scheme, the council is collecting data on how parents and pupils travel to school and taking air quality readings. An additional four more primary schools will participate in the pilot in September.
Councillor Feryal Demirci, cabinet member for neighbourhoods, transport and parks, said: “I’m delighted that the majority of parents and local residents agree with our proposal to close Crondall Street during school pick‑up and drop‑off times.The vast majority of children in Hackney walk or cycle to school, but too many children still make the journey by car.”
Demirci continued: “Driving children to school is bad for air quality and bad for children’s health. I hope Crondall Street will be the first of many School Streets in the borough – just one of the things thing we’re doing to try to make it safer and easier for children to walk and cycle to school.”
The road is visibly calmer, safer and cleaner during the School Street times. The council will be collecting data on how parents and pupils travel to school and taking air quality readings.
Three more School Street pilots will be consulted on later this year. One of these will be outside Tyssen Community School on Oldhill Street in Stamford Hill. CCTV footage released earlier this year shows irresponsible drivers putting pedestrians at risk by mounting the pavement right outside the school entrance.
Jackie Benjamin, head teacher of Tyssen Community School, said:“Our school has, over the years, been working tirelessly to improve the safety in Oldhill Street. It has been high on the school council agenda for the last two years, as the children and their parents do not feel safe on the road outside of the school.
“At pick‑up and drop‑off times there are daily altercations and also drivers will drive on to the pavement to avoid traffic which adds to our frustrations. This is the reason we welcome this initiative which could keep our community safe.”
When the council has evaluated the success of the pilots, it will decide whether to roll out the scheme to other schools in the borough, although not all schools will be suitable for School Streets.