School Streets - Should they become a permanent feature of our landscape?

6th Sept 2021

As children return to school, we take a deeper look into School Streets to kick off this conversation CIHT have carried out a spotlight on Walk to School & School Streets, here you can read more from decision makers and thought leaders on their School Streets case studies. Within this blog we’ll discuss further into the benefits of school streets and ask if School Streets should become a permanent feature of our landscape.

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What are School Streets?

A School Street is a road outside a school with a temporary restriction on motorised traffic at school drop-off and pick-up times. The restriction applies to school traffic and through traffic. The result is a safer, healthier and pleasant environment for everyone.

Local authorities have powers to use traffic management orders to turn a street into a pedestrian and cycle zone, which creates a School Street. Restrictions typically last up to one hour (two hours in total during the day) and only apply Monday to Friday (not including bank holidays), term time only. Vehicles are not permitted to enter the pedestrian and cycle zone between these times unless the driver is a holder of a valid ‘exemption’.


Why are School Streets important?

In looking at whether school streets should become a permanent feature it is important to understand why they came about. Children are classed as one of the roads most vulnerable road users. A recent study from Transport for London revealed that around 25% of the morning rush hour traffic is parents dropping children off.

Statistics from the Department of Transport reveal that 14% of children killed on Great Britain’s roads in 2018 were between the morning school run (7-9am) and 23% after school between 3-5pm. 

Recognising the impact of school traffic on our children 36% of local authorities in England have implemented the scheme. The delivery of School Streets has been a proactive solution for school communities, providing benefits such as:

  • Aims to increase the safety of a vulnerable group
  • Improved wellbeing of students as observed by head teachers that receiving and returning children as smoother, safer and calmer
  • Improved road safety around schools from inconsiderate parking and dangerous vehicle movements
  • Reduced traffic and congestion during the "school run"
  • Reduction in air pollution around the school gates due to reduced vehicle idling
  • Encourages active transport, sustainable transportation and independent mobility into lifestyles
  • School Streets provide an opportunity to start the conversation with our youngest residents and embed the walking and cycling culture into their daily lives.
  • Encourages connected communities and social interaction as individuals access community resources and build social networks that may be missed while in a car
  • Opportunity to increase the cohesion of the community
  • Relatively simple, low cost solutions compared to other road schemes

In light of the Covid 19 pandemic the Government highlighted the importance on active travel, enabling local authorities to implement temporary measures to reallocate road space and ease the pressure on the roads. This has meant that many more School Streets are in the pipeline, as not only do they restrict car use around schools, they enable social distancing by allowing pupils to walk in the road.


Monitoring the benefits

Road Safety

Globally, road traffic collisions claim more than 1.35 million lives each year and cause up to 50 million injuries with vulnerable road users disproportionately represented. They are also the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5–29 years.

Since 2010 the number of people fatally injured in the roads of Great Britain has stayed broadly the same. Concerningly, this pattern is reflected in the figures for child casualties – while the number of casualties has decreased, the number of fatalities has fluctuated between 69 and 52 over period between 2010 and 2020 with no clear trend.

For this reason, children are classed among one of the vulnerable road users. This comes with no surprise when school run related traffic accounts for a quarter of cars on the road and adds 254,00 vehicles a day in London alone.

study conducted by Transport for London found 18% of parents reported driving to school less as a result of incorporating the School Streets initiative, in addition to this 81% of those surveyed at schools where measures had been implemented believed a School Street is suitable for their school.

It is clear to see that implementing School Streets can have a positive impact on modal shift and changing behaviour to improve road safety around schools.

Active Travel

There is a greater focus on increasing active travel levels in the UK for a number of reasons. One is that the government has ambitions to make the UK a cycling nation, as set out in the Gear Change white paper from July 2020 stating that it wants to see half of all journeys in towns and cities cycled or walked.

Active travel has proven benefits both on physical and mental health. Over the last 30 years the number of children between 5-18 years old walking to school have significantly fallen, and it was reported to have fallen by 31% since 1995-97. This only exacerbates health implication as evidence shows cycling and walking reduces mortality by 10%in adults.

The latest report from the Chief Medical Officer states that

“children in England are among the most overweight in Europe: 24% of children start primary school overweight or obese, rising to 33% by the time they leave primary school.”

CIHT conducted a series of questions to those involved with School Streets, one of which was Gemma Hearsum from Waltham Forest Council.

Waltham Forest Council has introduced 15 Schools Streets so far with 64 roads included in School Street zones across Waltham Forest and over 12,000 pupils benefiting. Since the implementation of School Streets within the Waltham Forest, School Street Marsh Lane which incorporated two schools in September 2019 have seen a 20% increase in pupils travelling actively at Willow Brook Primary School and a 10% at St Joseph’s Catholic Infant School.

Another professional CIHT spoke to is Asa Thomas from University of Westminster, who discusses how School Streets are an added benefit to encourage active travel.  

“School Streets are a great compliment to other interventions like protected cycle routes, crossing improvements, and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. If the rest of the route is unsafe and unpleasant – only improving the road in front of the school will be of limited benefit. Taking a whole-route or whole-neighbourhood approach is important.”

Asa Thomas, University of Westminster.

Evidence from the campaign group Mums for Lungs found that a School Streets trial at a primary school in Eltham resulted in a 54% reduction in cars driving to school, a 27% increase in cycling and 9% increase in scooting.

From these case studies along, the School Streets initiative have a beneficial influence both on parents and children to travel more actively. This in turn provides physical and mental health benefits:

  • There is a positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance
  • Physical activity encourages healthy growth and development and helps to maintain a healthy weight, improving muscular strength, endurance and flexibility
  • 15 minutes exercise can significantly improve a child’s mood
  • Exercise can help to reduce anxiety and stress

Furthermore, posing another reason to implement School Streets as a permanent feature of landscape, especially after the isolation periods children were exposed to due to the pandemic.

Air Quality

Long term exposure to air pollution can lead to worsening asthma, other respiratory diseases, impaired lung function, heart disease: the ultimate effect of air pollution on public health is to bring about premature death.

In the UK alone, long term exposure to man-made air pollution has an annual effect equivalent to between 28,000 and 40,000 deaths (the number of people killed in road fatalities was 1,792 people in 2017).  According to the World Health Organisation the estimated annual death toll is 7 million people globally. The Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health estimate the cost of air pollution to the UK to be more than £20bn a year.

The School Streets initiative works similar to Clean Air Zones (CAZ) which are areas of a city where action is taken to improve air quality through discouraging the most polluting vehicles. Comparable to London’s Low Emission Zone and Emissions Surcharge (known as the T-Charge) they have been identified as one of the most effective ways of bringing down emissions with geographical areas in the Governments Clean Air Strategy.

study carried out by Waltham Forest School Streets project observed an approximate 80% decrease in the number of vehicles travelling on Marsh Lane during the operational hours of the School Street and a significant decrease in NO2 concentrations recorded. In support of this, a study carried out by TFL identified streets within London supporting School Streets saw a reduction in nitrogen dioxide by up to 23% during morning drop off.


What are the challenges to implementation?

As of November 2020, 383 schools in London implemented School Streets. This is disproportionate to the rest of England, with 107 School Streets being implemented outside of London.

This is largely because at present, only London boroughs can enforce the School Streets scheme through the use of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to detect non-compliant vehicles using the road.

Currently, local authorities outside London do not have the powers to enforce moving traffic offences, including School Streets, with enforcement responsibility in these areas sitting with the police.

Although this situation could change, The Department for Transport said in January that it is “committed to providing local authorities outside London with the powers to enforce these.”

With the government planning to amend elements of the Traffic Management Act 2004 to allow local authorities to enforce moving traffic offences.

This will allow councils outside London to implement School Streets schemes that draw on ANPR camera technology and will give pupils the opportunity to enter and leave the school in a healthier and safer way.


Should School Streets be permanent?

Even though the implementation of School Streets is not proportionate, the evidence from School Streets schemes in London show how effective these enforcement programmes can be in driving behaviour change.

In addition, School Streets provide a range of benefits from road safety, active travel, improved air quality and enhanced public health all at a relatively low cost. 

If we look to make School Streets a permanent feature within landscapes, it is important that local authorities engage with schools and school communities as much as possible during the design and implementation phase in order to ensure the scheme is appropriately designed.

An example of where a local authority was involved comes from Devon County Council. Liz Holloway, Senior Transport Planning Officer at Devon County Council mentioned what their team did to help.

“We ensured that before trials started, each school was provided a toolkit, consisting of barriers, cones, high viz, and a scheme design, a clear step by step guide and instructional video which outline the system and show how to safely open and close the road, operate equipment (barriers, cones, temporary signage etc.). Schools were also issued a memorandum of understanding which defines the responsibilities of each party.”

Liz Holloway, Senior Transport Planning Officer at Devon County Council.

Involving the school community as much as possible encourages schools and parents to fully comprehend the School Streets scheme and ensures compliance when implementing the scheme.

Following, the implementation benefits and success of the schemes should be shared to pass on knowledge so that other schools begin to request the implementation of a School Street.

CIHT have been involved with a range of work relating to developing better planning, planning for walking and planning for cycle which can all be found here.

We have witnessed more active travel through modal shift and behavioural change in favour of the transport hierarchy, which prioritises pedestrians, cyclists and clean public transport rather than private car usage.

As decarbonisation agendas, climate emergencies and public health concerns loom School Streets are an important tool to combating some of today’s environmental concerns.

Can implementing School Streets be a catalyst to changing the way people travel and our attitudes to transport?

Do you think they should become a permanent feature of our landscape?

If you’d like to be involved or just share your views do contact me at


Related CIHT Projects

To read more from CIHT on School Streets click here.

To read more form CIHT on Air Quality click here.

To read more from CIHT on Streets and Transport in the Urban environment click here.

To read more form CIHT on Road Safety click here

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