Image Credit: De Cafe Racer

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.

Image credit: NACTO

Last month, North America’s National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) released a new Global Designing Cities Initiative called Designing Streets For Kids. They note:

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?

Around Schools

Historically, schools have responded to the wider system they work within:

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.

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:

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:

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.



The Netherlands:

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

Thirty five C40 cities signed The Clean Air Cities Declaration on October 11th last year. Auckland will hopefully do so soon.


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:

  • Liverpool
  • Manly
  • 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)
  • Pyrmont
  • Ultimo
  • West Paddington
  • Camperdown and Newtown
  • Darlington

Many schools are included in the areas being treated. For example, 30 km/hr school zones will be introduced at 5 schools In Liverpool (NSW), and at 3 schools in Manly.

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.

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  1. These are great developments. But they also illustrate how Auckland is falling behind on these kind of changes to our streets.

    We’ve been patting ourselves on the back for making public transport “no longer completely rubbish”. Time to lift our aspirations again!

    1. I keep puzzling why we see such great developments around the world but it is so difficult to make even minor changes locally. Is it some key officials who push this through or a local population who push from these changes, or perhaps both?

      1. I think it’s fear. I think there’s an assumption that if something hasn’t been done before, in this city, that there must be a rule against it. And if not a rule, then surely someone tried it and it generated kickback. Often there’s neither a rule nor a precedent, or if there was, it’s irrelevant in this day and age.

        So instead of using their energy trying new ideas, people go looking for the rules and precedents. If they find them, they think this was good risk management, and if they proceed at all, do so tentatively and apologetically. In the process, they contribute in an enormous way to the risk of not learning from overseas, not changing when things are so dire, not moving forward.

        1. I also think we need to create streetscapes that not only slow/remove traffic but that also enhance the area. In Te Atatu local fb has reported “judder bars” being ripped out over night. These were ones put in to create safe streets around schools but to many locals they were a plastic eyesore. Lets get bolder and create an environment that people want to live in that supports community cohesion- think artwork, playstations, community gardens etc not just cones.

        2. It’s the kiwi settler mentality. It’s a common problem in the ‘new world’. It’s a deeply embedded cultural thing, which is a real problem. Because you can change regulations etc but it’s very hard to shift a culture.
          We love our big properties and big cars in NZ, Aus, USA.

    2. Partly because the bureaucrat is very risk averse and prefer to do business as usual. Staff don’t get any bonus if they improve things ten folds, but they get fired if they make a minor mistake.

      Any staff wanting to change the Status of Quo eventually get fired. Example: ADO team.

  2. This is beautiful and inspirational! It’s a shame that my local councillor only supports private vehicle usage, and actively campaigns against active modes (!). Conifer Grove would be a perfect candidate for shared streets and funded cycle school buses otherwise.

  3. This is a great post. However I would suggest limiting the article length to less than 5 minutes read would be ideal.

    10% of NZ children walking to school compare to 60% in Europe is an strong evidence to suggest our road design needs a major overhaul.

    I believe the filtered permeability street design is key.
    For example side streets should converted into cue-de-sac for cars, but allow pedestrians and cyclists to go thorough. Speed bumps should be installed aggressively. The speed limit should be reduced to 30kmh.

    There should be dedicated walking and cycling path connecting schools to local amenities and neighborhoods.

    1. When I was a kid everyone walked or road to school, as a teenager my parents lived in Milford, my sister and I both walked or biked to Westlake. What I think the problem is is that parents have become far to overprotective of children. Yes all streets have cars but all streets in NZ also have footpaths, in a lot of cities in Europe they don’t have footpaths in the suburbs, it doesn’t appear to stop their children walking or riding to school.

  4. Great presentation and great piece of research Heidi. This is so obviously the right way to be heading. How has the world managed to get things so wrong for so many decades by allowing traffic to dominate? To me this illustrates something very uncomfortable about human nature and its susceptibility to mass-misjudgement.

  5. My kids take a bus to school, we live in a rural area so they have no choice. My sister lives in Castor Bay, her oldest rides or catches a bus to Westlake and her youngest walks to Campbells Bay Primary. There are footpaths from my sisters house to both schools and to my parents house where the youngest goes after school most days.

    IMO the problem is a lot to do with over protective parents who won’t allow there children any freedom.

    1. Opinion noted.

      However, your opinion is not backed by the research, which says that the unsafe and car dependent system provided is what’s restricting our children’s mobility, access, health and future.

      1. I don’t buy that at all. If I’m wrong point out the NZ statistics which prove I’m wrong. All the examples you have used above are from overseas, nothing from NZ, so where is your proof that life for kids on streets in NZ is more dangerous today that it was when we were children?

        How have footpaths become less safe since I last walked to school 30 years ago? My sisters kids use the same footpaths I did, they haven’t changed, they haven’t become less safe, what has changed is parents attitudes.

        By the time I was 17, I knew a lot of people my age who had died in car accidents, my son is almost 16, he doesn’t know anyone who had died in a car accident. I honestly believe NZ is a lot safer for our kids than it was when I was a kid.

        1. You are incorrect in this: “the problem is a lot to do with over protective parents who won’t allow there children any freedom.”

          In fact, “no significant differences were observed between objective neighbourhood built environment measures and parents’ reported neighbourhood needs” – Children’s Transport Built Environments: A Mixed Methods Study of Associations between Perceived and Objective Measures and Relationships with Parent Licence for Independent Mobility in Auckland, New Zealand.

          Your opinion that it is no less dangerous than when you were a child is not relevant to the fact that we officially have a safety crisis.

        2. There’s now 2.5 times as many cars on the road as there were 30 years ago. So if the physical footpath and road environment hasn’t changed like you suggest, then the risk exposure is at least 2.5 times higher than when you went to school.

          It’d be a joke if it wasn’t so sad, parents drive their kids to school because all the traffic makes it too dangerous to walk.

        3. Putting aside the street environment & driver ability or speeds etc cars are generally more dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists these days due to (one thing that comes to mind) big thick roof pillars reducing visibility when turning into drive ways and such. These pillars have increased over the years to increase passenger safety when involved in accidents especially rolling over I guess. Another factor is driver distraction by fancy dash equipment & our mobile phones of course.

  6. @John Yes there are 2.5 times more cars on the roads today than 30 years ago, the road toll is also significantly lower today despite the larger population of people and cars.

    @Heidi where is the data proving that children are in more danger today than they were 30 years ago? From the study you cite it’s the parents perception that the environment is more dangerous rather than it actually being more dangerous.

    “Children’s independent mobility is declining internationally. Parents are the gatekeepers of children’s independent mobility. This mixed methods study investigates whether parent perceptions of the neighbourhood environment align with objective measures of the neighbourhood built environment, and how perceived and objective measures relate to parental licence for children’s independent mobility.”

    It’s also not just the roads that are the problem

    “Safety from others was also raised by 12% of parents, with a focus on concerns about “stranger danger” (5.4% of parents) and a need for greater community surveillance (4.6%). To a lesser extent, criminal and gang activity, roaming dogs, other “undesirables”, and bullying were also identified as factors limiting children’s independent mobility.”

    In other words its parents being over protective rather than the actual environment being the problem. I read through the report and couldn’t find any data to prove that more children are being harmed on the roads today than they were 30 years ago.

    I suspect that when the data is found it will show less children are harmed on our streets, a lot of that is due to parents not allowing children out because they perceive the streets as dangerous and because our children live sedentary lives, they don’t get out, one of the main reason alluded to in the article is because of parents perceptions on how dangerous life is outside the home.

    Parents are causing more harm than good.

    Heidi I challenge you to find the actual numbers, deaths and injuries, to prove my point wrong.

    1. Say that it is the case that children today are in no more danger than they were 30 years ago. Let’s also imagine for the sake of argument that overprotective parents are the cause. What can be done about this? Do you think that any potential improvements to the built environment (for instance, more cycleways) will be ‘wasted’, in the sense that any potential benefit would be cancelled out by the long arm of overbearing parents?

    2. Torsten: “where is the data proving that children are in more danger today than they were 30 years ago?”

      Rates of walking and cycling were not properly recorded – still aren’t – meaning DSI/km walked or cycled in Auckland from 30 years ago is not available, so if you are particularly interested in the risks of today compared to the era of your childhood, you’ll need to understand other research methods. I’ll keep posting the data I have available. Traffic wasn’t safe then and it is not safe today. No-one can look at today’s transport system and say it’s safe:

      And that’s just traffic injury – the illnesses and death due to the transport systems are far higher than this.

    3. Torsten: “From the study you cite it’s the parents perception that the environment is more dangerous rather than it actually being more dangerous.”

      The research method acknowledges parents are the gatekeepers. It also says that their perceptions match “objective neighbourhood built environment measures”. I’ve already quoted that. You are incorrect to say that their perception is out of step with the danger.

      Torsten: “It’s also not just the roads that are the problem”

      It’s natural for parents to consider all risks they are aware of. No-one’s said just roads are the problem but they are a big part of the problem. “Overall, the study findings indicate the importance of safer traffic environments for children’s independent mobility.”

      Torsten: “In other words its parents being over protective” No, parents being aware of other risks doesn’t mean they’re being overprotective.

    4. Torsten: “Heidi I challenge you to find the actual numbers, deaths and injuries, to prove my point wrong.” Of course you do, but it is your job to try and prove any theory you may have, not mine.

      In this post I’ve given Fife and the UK LTN’s as examples of where changing the street environment has worked to increase children’s physical activity and active travel. This demonstrates the contribution the transport system has to the low rates of active travel for children. There is a huge body of similar research, but is the sort of research you’re choosing to ignore in your zeal to try to justify the retention of car dependence.

      1. +1, we don’t need to do statistical analysis when we have natural experiments. When we make roads objectively or perceptually safer, we get more kids walking and cycling to school. End of argument.

    5. Ok so this doesn’t answer your questions directly but is New Zealand based and in my opinion relevant to this discussion –

      These pages provide information about the key benefits of investing in cycling, for councils, communities and

      The benefits include:
      • more liveable towns and cities
      • improved conditions for travelling within towns and cities
      • stronger local economies
      • reduced costs for councils
      • less impact on the environment, and
      • healthier and more productive people.

      We also know that providing cycling infrastructure responds to what a significant percentage of people say they want.

      More information about the benefits of investing in cycling will be added over time to build this as a shared information base.

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