We’ve been working with London housing and regeneration association Poplar HARCA and two Tower Hamlets schools, St Paul’s Way Foundation and Stebon Primary School to clean up the air around the schools and create a safe environment so children and their families can breathe more easily.
Cleaner air and the freedom to play
We transformed the Poplar HARCA-owned road, Masjid Lane, into a car-free zone for the afternoon of the 12 July 2019. Eliminating motor traffic and opening the streets to people enables the children and their families to enjoy the freedom to play, cycle, scoot and walk in the knowledge that the air they are breathing is cleaner and the road is safer.
Seeing a shift in how people travel
Our work with Poplar HARCA adds to our already extensive experience with schools throughout London and demonstrates how we can make positive change happen.
In this area of Tower Hamlets, we have seen a definite shift in how people are getting to and from school. Over the 2017-8 years, we have been working at 12 schools, there has been a 6.8% increase in children coming to school by bike, scooter or on foot.
When children see how their friends are travelling, they want to try out this more active way of travelling too.
It’s time for a new normal
We transformed Masjid Lane into a Play Street full of life. It’s home to 700 residents, two schools and a mosque, so normally there are a lot of people moving about the area at particular times of the day.
At school run times drivers park their cars on the pavement, forcing pedestrians and people on bikes into the road. The time for a new normal has come.
Looking to the future, it’s great to see parents and local residents coming together to call for the road to be open to people only at the beginning and end of the school day. This Play Street is part of our community engagement to show it works.
Sustrans’ London Director Matt Winfield said: “We’ve loved working with the schools and Poplar HARCA on bringing this Play Street alive. It’s a great first step to creating a safer and cleaner environment outside the schools.
“All the schools across London are in locations which breach World Health Organisation limits for air quality. We need to take urgent action and we want the national government to support local authorities to make it safer and easier for parents and children to walk, scoot and cycle to school. To do that, the roads outside schools need to feel safe.
"A great start is eliminating motor traffic at the beginning and end of the school day.
“It’s great that the parents and residents are working together with Poplar HARCA on establishing a School Street in the long-term and I’m looking forward to our continued work in Tower Hamlets to ensure the people who live and go to school here share in the health benefits of breathing cleaner air and choosing more active ways of getting around.”
He added: “We are seeing more and more school streets, which are vitally important for the health of children.
"They do need to be done properly to be successful and there’s often a need to work closely with a local community around longer-term changes to streets. That is something Sustrans can help partners with.”
Poplar HARCA’s Head of Partnerships, Alex Jeremy said: “It’s been great working with Sustrans to get this Play Street up and running. Their established relationship with local schools through their Bike It programme has been invaluable.
"At Poplar HARCA, we are committed to tackling poor air quality in Poplar and are delivering a range of initiatives which raise awareness about the issue and take direct action. However, we can only achieve this by working collaboratively with partners such as Sustrans.
"We want to ensure that our streets work for everyone and initiatives such as Play Streets are one way in which we can make the school run more enjoyable, healthier and safer.”
Cllr Kyrsten Perry, Cycling and Pedestrian Champion for the Mayor of Tower Hamlets said: “It’s wonderful to see this Play Street in action with children out on their bikes, playing and enjoying the area outside their school.
“As a council, we are committed to cleaning up the air in Tower Hamlets through our Breathe Clean campaign. This means encouraging residents to reduce the number of journeys they make by car.
"The investment we are making through our Liveable Streets programme will also make sustainable travel alternatives easier and more attractive.
“Children in the borough can have up to 10 per cent less lung capacity than the national average. School Streets and Play Streets form a crucial part in tackling this issue.”