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London's School Streets initiative improves air quality

Closing the roads around schools to traffic at pick-up and drop-off times has reduced polluting nitrogen dioxide levels by up to 23 per cent, according to latest research.

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Roads surrounding schools are closed to motor traffic at drop-off and pick-up times
Roads surrounding schools are closed to motor traffic at drop-off and pick-up times

Closing the roads around schools to traffic at pick-up and drop-off times in London has reduced polluting nitrogen dioxide levels by one quarter (23 per cent), new research published by Transport for London (TfL) shows.

 

To measure the air quality benefits of the new School Streets, 30 sensors from the Breathe London network were installed at 18 primary schools across the boroughs of Brent, Enfield and Lambeth to record nitrogen dioxide levels.

 

Air quality monitoring

 

The air quality monitoring project, funded by FIA Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies, was launched in September 2020 to give the “most accurate indication yet” of how the School Streets scheme is working in the UK capital.

 

Since April 2020, almost 350 School Streets have been delivered across London with funding from Transport for London (TfL) and the boroughs to tackle children’s exposure to air pollution and improve their health.

 

Roads surrounding schools are closed to motor traffic at drop-off and pick-up times, enabling children to walk or cycle to school, reducing car trips and improving air quality. School Streets also provide space for social distancing and help to reduce road danger around schools, making journeys safer and easier.

“This new research shows that School Street schemes are hugely popular with parents and have had a positive effect on their travel habits and perception of safety near their school”

Around half of London’s emissions come from road transport, and London’s toxic air already leads to thousands of premature deaths in the capital every year as well as stunting the development of young lungs and increasing cases of respiratory illness.

 

Air pollution has also been linked to increased risk of contracting Covid-19 and experiencing the most serious effects.

 

“Since 2016, there has been a 97 per cent reduction in the number of schools in areas which exceed the legal pollution limit and I’m committed to bringing that number down to zero,” said Sadiq Khan, mayor of London.

 

“School Streets play an important role in enabling parents and children to walk, cycle or scoot to an from school which has so many benefits, not least in improving air quality,” he continued.

 

“It’s great to see the huge reduction in nitrogen dioxide during pick up and drop off on schools’ streets – a time where countless children and adults would otherwise be exposed to dangerous emissions.”

 

Parents and carers from 35 schools took part in the study and the results revealed:

  • 81 per cent of those surveyed at schools where measures had been implemented believed a School Street is suitable for their school
  • 73 per cent of parents and carers at these schools agree with School Street measures remaining in place while social distancing is still required, with 77 per cent supporting the changes being kept in the long term, subject to consultation
  • Since the pandemic, parents and carers reported walking to school more, and driving less, at both School Street schools and those without School Streets.

“At a time that has led to some of the biggest ever changes to Londoners’ travel habits, this new research shows that School Street schemes are hugely popular with parents and have had a positive effect on their travel habits and perception of safety near their school,” added Alex Williams, director of city planning at TfL.

 

“We’ll continue to work closely with schools, local communities and boroughs across London as we deliver further schemes across the capital to reflect the changing coronavirus situation.”

 

Streetspace plans

 

The mayor’s Streetspace plans have also made walking and cycling easier and have seen 90km of new or upgraded cycle lanes built or are under construction since May 2020, along with more than 22,500 square metres of extra pavement space reallocated for people walking.

 

The measures mean people are increasingly using bikes to get around their local area, access their local shops and for exercise, with recent TfL cycle count data showing cycling has increased by 22 per cent in outer London compared to spring 2019, with a seven per cent rise in inner London.

 

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