Learning from a School Streets pilot in Sheffield: Creating healthy community spaces in a time of COVID-19? – Dr Amy Barnes

Sheffield Schools Carterknowle Junior and Holt House Infants released a community-led evaluation report on 8th October 2020 (Clean Air Day!) about their week-long ‘School Streets’ pilot in late 2019, which involved closing part of Bannerdale Road in the city. I worked with the school community on the pilot and we have learned a lot together.

‘School Streets’ have been trialled across the country. They involve restricting car access near schools during drop-off and pick-up to make streets healthier and safer for children. They often involve other local action too: encouraging active travel, ‘citizen science’ activities to get people involved in monitoring air quality or traffic flows, and organising events so that the community can celebrate and enjoy the space created. 

During the closure, we found that 4 out of 5 families opted for active travel, by walking, cycling or scooting to get to school. The report looks at changes in air quality and traffic volumes during the road closure. It also explores the views of parents, children and local residents.

By working together, we learned that School Streets can create a new local space for children and families: to play, interact, feel safe, be active and be independent. As a local resident, quoted in the report, said:

“There were some teething problems on the first day but once people who use the road were aware of the closure, there was a real difference around the peak hours. The road was not only quieter, but it also felt more open and calmer.”

Our report shows that there is a lot of support locally for more action to create School Streets. The pilot was not without its issues and these are also discussed in our report. For example, the impact of closing the road displaced some of the remaining commuter traffic onto nearby roads, increasing congestion there.

In terms of air quality, we worked with Dr Maria Val Martin, an atmospheric scientist at the University, who was involved with monitoring air quality during the closure. As Maria explained:

The results from the air quality sensors during the plot week were inconclusive. We’d need a much longer period of time to show if there’s a sustained impact on air pollution reductions. However, we know from NO2 readings during the 2020 lockdown that the reduced traffic resulted in consistently lower NO2 levels compared to the averages from 2016-19.”

In the midst of this global COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps now more than ever people need cleaner air to breathe and safer outdoor community spaces to help with physical distancing. ‘School Streets’ schemes could have a vital role to play here. We want all Sheffield and city communities to have the resources to take action to create safe and healthy School Streets as we deal with COVID-19. This will require bold city leadership but we are confident that Sheffield and other cities can seize the opportunity to make ‘School Streets’ schemes a reality.

If you agree, lets start a conversation about it…

Dr Amy Barnes, Lecturer in Public Health (Policy)

Email: a.barnes@sheffield.a.uk

Dr Maria Val Martin, University of Sheffield

Nikki Rees, Co-opted School Governor

For more information about the pilot, you can also Jenny Johnson, Parent Governor, Holt House & Carterknowle Schools Federation.

Email: jjohnson@holthouse.sheffield.sch.uk    

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