Why School Streets?
School Streets are gaining popularity around the world in response two common trends: declining levels of independent mobility and active transportation engagement among elementary school aged children; and unsafe conditions around school sites due to high vehicular traffic volumes, flow, and idling. By closing streets adjacent to schools to through traffic, School Streets offer a multitude of benefits for students, parents, teachers, and local residents. Specifically, School Streets:
- Provide a safer and calmer experience for children to come and go from school every day, thus reducing risk of injury, stress, and anxiety among students;
- Foster opportunities for children to develop skills in independent mobility and active transportation;
- Promote health and readiness to learn, by creating the conditions for children to engage in physical activity as part of their journey to/from school;
- Promotes social cohesion among students and among parents, by creating space for children and parents to informally interact outside the school; and
- Improve air quality and reduce noise pollution by eliminating traffic congestion around the school.
How do School Streets lead to increased active transportation to school?
While safe active transportation routes are also needed in our communities, School Streets guarantee that some active transportation happens for at least part of the journey to school. This is critical to building children’s capacity for independent mobility, and eventually, for their engagement in active transportation for longer distances, and ultimately for the entire journey to school. School Streets also provide a calmer, quieter, and cleaner zone for children to arrive and depart from school, which may help parents feel more comfortable allowing their children to use AT to get to school.
Where else is this being done in Canada?
School Street initiatives were briefly tested in Victoria, British Columbia (for one day) and in Toronto, Ontario (for four days). Isaac Brock Public School in Winnipeg, Manitoba ran a School Street for the 2020-2021 school year. School Streets are also forthcoming in Vancouver (2021-2022) and Markham (2021-2022). The goal is for the School Street initiative in Kingston to run for the 2021-2022 school year but it would start as a 90-day trial. As such, we have an opportunity to be a leader in Ontario, to be at the forefront of active transportation research, and to show our kids that we are willing to try new things as a community.
Does this not simply push congestion onto other streets?
Yes and no. The implementation team will urge drivers to park on neighbouring streets, such as Napier, Hill, Earl, and MacDonnell (north of Earl). However, the redirected traffic will be much more dispersed compared to how it currently clusters around the school entrance on MacDonnell. And, as mentioned above, the School Street team can work with the School’s Parent Council to identify designated drop-off locations a few blocks away from the school, which will disperse the traffic even further. Of course, the goal over time is for students to shift to an active mode of travel to and from school for their entire journey, so the hope is that the overall number of vehicles making the journey to school will decrease over the course of the intervention period. Additionally, studies evaluating School Streets in other contexts have given us confidence that displayed traffic congestion will likely not be a major concern, as they have found that traffic on surrounding streets to the School Street did not see a significant increase in traffic volumes.
Where are suggested pick-up and drop off locations?
Some suggestions for student drop-off and pick-up include:
- Victoria Street near Earl Street
- Willingdon Avenue near Earl Street
- Hill Street and Willingdon Avenue
- Centre Street near Union Street
Will any vehicles be permitted to enter the street during the closure period?
When the School Street is in operation, local residents living directly on the School Street will still be able to come and go from their homes as they please. Deliveries will also be permitted to enter the street during School Street hours. Volunteers at the barriers by the entrances will allow vehicles to enter but we ask that all vehicles drive at a walking pace once they have entered the School Street.
How will this initiative impact children’s understanding of road safety?
We feel confident that this type of initiative will not have a negative impact on children’s understanding of road safety but we can understand why parents may be concerned that this will be confusing for children. A study from the University of Bristol, indicates that children as young as 6 are able to recognize the difference between when a street is closed to traffic and when there is normal vehicular traffic. They found that children can clearly describe the visual and audial cues that signal the road is open to cars and not safe for play or walking in the street. They also found that these types of initiatives do not impair children’s knowledge of road safety and parents were still teaching their children about road safety. Finally, the team plans to use this initiative to encourage more conversations and education on road safety.