Published: 14th FEBRUARY 2023

Call for School Streets scheme to transform NI school run

A primary school parent has backed our call for the School Streets scheme to be introduced in Northern Ireland. She has compared the school run to ‘going into battle’.

A woman wearing a purple helmet and hi-vis vest is outside taking a selfie photo of herself with her two small children and their cargo bike in the background.

Dr Jen Banks with her children and their bike. Photo: Dr Jen Banks

A simple change to the streets outside primary schools would enable many more children to walk, scoot or cycle to school.

We have called for the introduction of a School Streets initiative in Northern Ireland that would restrict motor traffic for a short period each day, generally at drop-off and pick-up times.

One parent from a Downpatrick school backed the call, comparing the school run to ‘going into battle’.

The initiative has been successful across the UK and Ireland in promoting active travel and tackling congestion, poor air quality and road safety concerns at schools. Northern Ireland is the only region without this scheme.


Council motion for Belfast pilot

Belfast City Council recently passed a motion, tabled by SDLP Cllr Séamas de Faoite, calling for a pilot in Belfast. However, the statutory powers lie with the Department for Infrastructure.

Nearly half of Northern Ireland’s primary school pupils live less than a mile from their school. Yet almost two-thirds are driven the short journey.

Sustrans has been delivering a behaviour change programme, the Active School Travel Programme, jointly funded by the Public Health Agency (PHA) and Department for Infrastructure (DfI).


Better infrastructure is needed to make active travel safer

Sustrans surveys show around four in five children would like to travel actively to school. But better infrastructure is needed to make active journeys a safe option and more attractive to parents.

Beth Harding, Active School Travel programme manager, said:

“More than a quarter of children in Northern Ireland are overweight or obese. Active travel through walking and cycling can help reverse this trend and also helps a child’s mental health.

“Reducing traffic and associated carbon emissions around the school gates has the added impact of improving air quality, which has become a significant public health issue, especially in urban areas.

“There is great potential to increase the number of children walking and cycling to school and to reduce car use on the school run. Implementing School Streets initiatives can help, as we’ve seen from their success in the UK and Republic of Ireland."

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We believe that every child in Northern Ireland who can and who wants to should be able to safely walk and cycle to school. Blockquote quotation marks
Beth Harding, Active School Travel programme manager

Dr Jen Banks, a parent from Our Lady’s and St Patrick’s Primary School/Bunscoil Mhuire agus Phádraig, in Edward Street, Downpatrick, has backed the call for a School Streets initiative. Jen said:

“My son recently asked me if he could cycle to school on his own bike, and I said, ‘no, it’s not safe’.

“I have heard other parents describe our school run as ‘going into battle’, and whilst they’re joking, they have a point. I can’t imagine the street my children’s school is on being much worse.”


'A perceivable layer of fumes, anxiety, frustration and danger'

Jen continued:

“Edward Street as a School Street with access by foot, scooter or cycle could become safe and peaceful for everyone to live, learn, play and breathe.

“At the minute there are parked cars lining both sides of the road and a queue of vehicles waiting, engines rolling, at either end for the chance to dart up or down.

“Huge lorries are having to reverse as they’ve got stuck, school buses can’t access the school and cars are mounting the pavements. There is a perceivable layer of fumes, anxiety, frustration and danger.

“But turning a section into a School Street would mean my child and many others could walk or cycle independently to school, which encourages active travel.”


School encourages active travel

Every week the school encourages the parents and carers to ‘park and stride’ and encourages the children towards active travel.

“The school is not the problem,” Jen added. “The infrastructure that these children are striding into undoubtedly is.

"Turning a section of Edward Street into a School Street would mean that residents, school staff, those with blue badges and blue light vehicles would always have access to the street.

“However, at certain times of the school day, the rest of the public would be asked not to drive down it.”

The congestion and road safety dangers affect schools across Northern Ireland where many could benefit from School Streets.

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