UK councils to enforce temporary road closures for safer school runs

London and Manchester already have measures to restrict traffic, encourage walking and cycling, and cut air pollution

Roads are to be temporarily closed near schools when parents drop off and pick up their children, in order to deter people from driving on the school run – and to encourage more walking, cycling and scooting.

The plans to shut off roads at school rush hours, using barriers, cones and other measures, are already far advanced in London and Manchester and are expected to be followed in other cities and towns.

Will Norman, London’s walking and cycling commissioner, told the Observer: “It will mean timed restrictions on traffic around schools to allow people to safely walk to school, cycle to school, scoot to school. I don’t mind if they are on space hoppers as long as it’s not by car. You need to reduce the amount of traffic to allow pupils and parents to walk safely.”

Norman said there would be an added danger to parents and children who would have to keep two metres apart if the roads were busy near schools. “The last thing we want is kids and their parents stepping into a busy road or to see increasing air quality problems around schools.

“So that [temporary closure of roads twice a day] is going to have to be something that schools and local authorities plan for and I want all schools and councils to be looking at this urgently.”

Transport planners are worried that if more people opt to use their cars after the lockdown ends, to get children to and from school, there will be gridlock in urban areas. They also warn that there will be a rapid rise in pollution levels around schools that will be bad for pupils’ and teachers’ health.

Yesterday [SAT] the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced a £2 billion package “to put cycling and walking at the heart of our transport policy”. He said that even if the transport network was running at full capacity, the two metre social distancing rule would mean only one in 10 passengers could travel.

A national cycling plan will be published in early June to help double cycling and increase walking by 2025, he said. Measures will include pop-up bike lanes and wider pavements as well as cycle and bus-only streets. Trials of e-scooters will also be fast-tracked in a bid to get rental schemes up and running in cities as fast as possible.

The length of time that temporary road closures around schools would last, and precisely how they work, will be left up to local councils. But both London mayor Sadiq Khan and the mayor of Greater Manchester, have made clear money will be available and emergency powers can be used to allow them to do so.

They say the closures would also make it safer for people to walk or cycle at safe distances from each other en route to and from schools, and help buses carrying children avoid running into heavy congestion.

Sadiq Khan
Sadiq Khan: ‘If people switch only a fraction of journeys to cars, London risks grinding to a halt, air quality will worsen, and road danger will increase.’ Photograph: Peter Summers/Getty

Chris Boardman, the former Olympic cycling gold medallist, who is now cycling and walking commissioner for Greater Manchester, said the current crisis had created a unique opportunity to try out ideas that people might find they want to adopt permanently.

In Manchester, councils had been given £5m to help develop such schemes and had emergency powers to close or adapt roads. “They [councils] could say, right we need to make a lot more space around these schools so people will stay apart. They could say we will do it with cones, with planters, we will temporarily close roads, we will make it one way so we can use one lane. All of these measures can be adopted … quickly.”

Every year more than 200 million car journeys of less than 1km are made, many of these being on school runs.

Graham Stapleton, the CEO of retail chain Halfords, said he supported calls by Boardman for trials on e-scooters.

“We welcome reports of a forthcoming government announcement on fast tracking e-scooter trials and think if this is true, it will go some way to setting a legal and regulatory framework that means they can be lawfully used on our roads. There is overwhelming public support for trials.”

Khan said: “To help mitigate the impact of a greatly reduced capacity on public transport, due to social distancing, we will need millions of journeys a day to be made by other means. If people switch only a fraction of these journeys to cars, London risks grinding to a halt, air quality will worsen, and road danger will increase.

“Modelling has shown that there is potential for a tenfold increase in kilometres cycled and up to five times the amount of walking. Our Streetspace plan will act as a catalyst for this change, fast-tracking schemes that will enable many more people to take to two wheels or travel on foot. This includes repurposing traffic lanes on main roads for temporary cycle lanes, widening footways so that people can safely socially distance, looking at where we need to restrict roads to buses and bikes only at certain times of the day, and reducing traffic on residential streets.”


Toby Helm Political Editor

The GuardianTramp

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