In the last few years, child-friendly transport improvements have been made in many cities around the world. Parents, communities and councils, sharing the common desire to nurture children, and give them the best start in life, have found many stepwise – and sometimes radical – ways to make streets healthy and safe for kids.
— Hackney LCC (@hackney_cycling) September 6, 2020
Image credit: NACTO
Most streets were not built with children in mind, and current street conditions in many places are unwelcoming and unsafe for kids. Traffic crashes kill 1.35 million people every year and they are the leading cause of death for young people ages 5-29. Traffic congestion and vehicle designs can also contribute to dangerously high levels of air pollution, which is responsible for the death of 127,000 children under the age of five each year. Many of these fatalities are preventable, and these numbers can be dramatically reduced through kid-friendly street design.
Poor street design also has negative consequences for children’s physical and mental health. Streets that are noisy and/or hostile to pedestrians and transit users tend to discourage physical activity, which deprives children of independent mobility and opportunities to exercise and play.
Image credit: NACTO
So what have cities been up to?
Historically, schools have responded to the wider system they work within:
School run is starting again.
So, pick your favourite!
Top: Unionville elementary school, North Carolina, USA
(via @yann_rouen: https://t.co/2Rqghb8P9O)
Bottom: Ds. Pierson secondary school, 's Hertogenbosch
(by @BicycleDutch: https://t.co/VHxqjc9fNM) pic.twitter.com/EsRbzNhrNZ
— Cycling Professor (@fietsprofessor) August 25, 2020
Traffic around schools in most cities is far more chaotic than either of these examples, (and children’s independence falls somewhere between these extremes.) But it’s clear which way we need to head. Guidelines such as NACTO’s include many suggestions for how to approach changes near schools and other key destinations.
Image credit: NACTO
Glasgow has just announced the use of car free zones around schools at the start and end of the school day:
The 21 schools identified as potential locations for a car free zone either requested involvement in the scheme or were nominated by parents or local elected members. Work to engage with parents, pupils and teachers at the 21 schools is underway…
It is proposed the new car free zones will be initially introduced on a temporary basis to allow them to be implemented quickly, with measures hoped to be in place by October this year.
“It’s always been our intention to expand the use of school car free zones as much as possible and we are responding to where interest has been expressed,” added councillor Chris Cunningham…
For any car free zone to become permanent in the city, a full traffic regulation order will be required. Expanding the school car free zone scheme was recommended by Glasgow’s Climate Emergency Working Group.
Barcelona is launching its "Protecting Schools" project, opening up space in front of 200 city schools to improve access, calm traffic and protect kids from pollution. Includes new greenery, benches, pavement markings & more. https://t.co/2DRqVjQ4tq pic.twitter.com/JBKkoISj8r
— Doug Gordon (@BrooklynSpoke) July 31, 2020
The Mayor of London announced in June there would be 154 school streets (as well as 114 low traffic neighbourhoods) in London.
In London, with so many schools now released from the school gate chaos, the concepts should be visible to everyone:
OK, schools. Time to choose:
Which of these school streets do you want?
— Cycling Professor (@fietsprofessor) September 3, 2020
Decisions to retain the danger of traffic chaos will now be hard to justify.
Low traffic neighbourhoods
Low traffic neighbourhoods are cost-effective and successful. This short video gets to the heart of how they are the critical missing part of traffic calming:
What strikes me most often about Low Traffic Neighbourhoods is that these are the measures that actually change streets. We’ve tried speed humps, narrowing, greening alone – but removing traffic makes the crucial difference pic.twitter.com/eA9LsUxwgI
— Caroline Russell (@CarolineRussell) September 8, 2020
areas like this that have the through traffic taken out of them can really play their part in helping all those children make their journeys to school safety on foot, by bike and on scooters.
And the CEO of Living Streets UK says:
Once, streets were places where children could play and roam but some of our most recent research revealed that 60% of 4-11 year-olds never play out on their local streets. When asked why, over a third of parents said they didn’t think their street was a ‘safe, welcoming place their child (could) enjoy’.
Communities have often felt powerless to stop the tide of traffic which affects both on our main roads and neighbourhoods but LTNs can start to give space back to people, allowing communities to enjoy safer streets and happier and healthier lives.
In this video from Oxfordshire, they are called Liveable Neighbourhoods.
Recently 130 UK community groups co-signed a letter of support for low traffic neighbourhoods. This excerpt mentions the importance for children:
Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, when designed well, massively reduce motor traffic, allowing kids to play outside and local residents to walk and cycle more… And in more established Low Traffic Neighbourhoods like Waltham Forest in London, residents have seen transformative changes to the school run. Once traffic is removed from side streets, vulnerable road users can travel safely on foot, benefiting the whole community, not only those that live there.
The growth of the concept this year has been remarkable.
Reallocation of Streets for Cycling and Playing
There is too much happening around the world to know how to sum it up.
In the last weeks, we worked together with residents to transform streets to vacation streets (@vakantiestraat). Holiday in your own city!
Amazing to see how communities get around their streets and reimagine how they can be reshaped.https://t.co/O7x76UY3yi pic.twitter.com/vs0XxoYqtH
— Lior Steinberg (@LiorSteinberg) August 12, 2020
These holiday streets come in basic or maximum:
And of course, 2020 has been the year of the pop-up cyclelane, many of which have been safe enough for children to use.
We have come a long way on accepting responsibility for the harm being done to children by transport emissions. I remember only twenty years ago, people would argue that fumes from cars weren’t a health problem because they no longer included lead! Now the impacts on children’s health and learning from transport emissions are widely understood:
the damage air pollution causes to still-maturing brains and lungs—asthma, cancer, cognitive impairment, and reduced lung functioning—can last a lifetime.
The success of low emissions zones is noted by the European Cyclists’ Federation in an article entitled Low Emission Zones, a European success story:
The highest reduction of the NO2 concentration observed in 2019 was in the first months of ‘Madrid Central’, the Spanish capital’s LEZ. This dangerous pollutant was reduced by 32%. But meanwhile Madrid LEZ is very small, only 5 km², Berlin applied it almost to the whole city, achieving a 20% reduction in NO2 emissions. London is one of the cities that is most aware of the changes brought by LEZ, as its NO2 levels fell by a third in the area and the city almost tripled the amount of protected lanes for cycling.
To gather the evidence in Madrid in order to push for low traffic zones, cycleways and low emissions zones, citizens’ science is being used to monitor air quality in schools.
As Matt highlighted recently, the rationale for the Swedish government allowing municipalities to introduce low emission zones this year included a full awareness of the difference this makes for children:
Air pollution causes cancer as well as lung disease, cardiovascular disease and premature death. Not least children’s health is adversely affected. The absolutely dominant source of nitrogen oxides in the urban environment is road traffic…
“Children’s right to breathe clean air takes priority over the right to drive all kinds of cars on every single street. We are now giving the municipalities the powerful tool they have long been requesting so that they can tackle hazardous air pollution,” says Minister for the Environment Karolina Skog
Some parts of the world have been bringing in child-friendly speeds for a while. Fife, in Scotland, for example, seems to has been an early adopter of safe speeds:
Since 2003, Fife have been delivering mandatory 20mph zones throughout all residential areas covering a much wider area than just outside schools. This is now substantially complete with 499 zones introduced. Over 95% of residential areas are now within a zone, at a cumulative cost of approximately £8.7 million… The regular surveys undertaken on the method of travel that children use for their journey to and from school shows Fife having a higher level of walking and cycling than nationally together with a declining percentage of children being driven to school by car… This has been a transformational project, delivering stronger communities by making our streets safer and more pleasant to live and travel within.
Unsurprisingly, safe speeds are linked with children using active travel to get to school, as noted by a new Australian advocacy group called 30please:
Reducing speed limits to 30 km/h would increase the likelihood that children are given licences to walk to school alone or cycle around their neighbourhoods.
Australia is starting to catch up. For example, Northern Beaches Council announced lower speeds for North Sydney in January:
Transforming Sydney’s streets
We are working to deliver safer speed zones as part of our response to COVID-19, giving the community more options to walk, cycle and move around the city in a safer environment.
Speed change areas planned or installed so far, include:
- Bridge Road and Pyrmont Bridge Road between Parramatta Road (Annandale) and the Western Distributor (Pyrmont)
- The Crescent, Minogue Crescent, Ross Street between Link Road (Rozelle) and Bridge Road (Forest Lodge)
- Oxford Street between College Street (Surry Hills) and Taylor Square (Darlinghurst)
- West Paddington
- Camperdown and Newtown
Socially healthy children’s transport
This group bike, designed by Thomas Tolkamp, is sold by De Cafe Racer in The Netherlands. Their website gives details (thanks to Google Translate):
This group bike is used for out-of-school care. The children are picked up from their school on this bicycle. This designer group bike offers space for 10 children and 1 adult driver. All saddles are adjustable in height again. The driver has an electric auxiliary motor to make cycling even easier.
Safety features include:
- All bicycles contain front, rear, brake and turn signals
- All bicycles are provided with a safety net under the bicycle
Another producer is Metaalspecials, who say:
In Nijmegen, a large out-of-school care facility now has an entire fleet.
Spokesperson Jaap Stuart of childcare organization Struin: “These bicycles fit in perfectly with our philosophy. The children are outside, they move and we go out into nature with them”…
The four-year-olds get into the toddler cart where they don’t have to do much yet. There they are also attached with a strap.
S’Cool Bus, in France, are a customer of Metaalspecials:
“I wanted kids to have a sense of happiness when they go to school,” says Amaury Piquiot, founder of the S’Cool Bus, which is also a nonprofit organization.
Piquiot got the idea when, as a business school student, he interned in the Dutch city of Nijmegen, and saw a couple of these bike-buses—one for adults that touted the ability to bike while drinking beer, and another for transporting children. Back home in Rouen, he created the plan for S’Cool Bus. Now, it’s a complete bike-bus service that includes the buses, drivers, and bus maintenance, along with route development, safety training for the kids, and parent communications. Each bus can go up to 18 miles per hour and accommodates 10 bicyclists, including the driver.
The story of how S’Cool Bus started is a heartening one. It is a non-profit, with:
20 motivated young volunteers from different backgrounds. From 19 to 30 years old, ranging from medical, business and engineering students to high-level mechanics and athletes, all are keen to make a contribution in the field of sustainable development.
They have also adapted the design with roofs to protect the kids from “the Rouen” rain.
Image credit: Bicycling
All in all, transport’s been taking a turn for the better for kids in many parts of the world.