Over 2,000 primary schools in the UK are situated in pollution hotspots, putting children’s health at risk. Air pollution is harmful to everyone, but for children the risk to their health is even higher as their exposure is much greater and they absorb and retain pollutants in the body for longer. Motor vehicles are the biggest source of air pollution and one in four cars usually on the road at peak times are on the school run.
Cutting unnecessary car journeys and enabling more families to walk to school can be part of the solution to the air pollution crisis. Since the COVID-19 lockdown, figures show that more people are walking. In fact, a recent Sport Wales survey showed that 59% of Welsh adults have walked for leisure in the last week. And a survey commissioned by Global Action Plan, a coalition of environmental and health NGOs including Living Streets, last week revealed that six out of ten parents are worried about increased levels of traffic when lockdown is lifted.
Living Streets is encouraging parents to walk or cycle to school when possible and urging schools and local authorities to implement a range of other measures to make walking safer. These can include temporary and permanent changes including widening pavements, introducing pop-up cycle lanes, automatic crossings, reduced wait times and increased green man times to enable better pedestrian transit and support the many people who are reluctant to push buttons at this time; and 20mph zones. In the longer term, streets around schools should be transformed into a low traffic neighbourhood.
Stephen Edwards, Director of Policy and Communications, Living Streets said:
“As schools in Wales plan their return, it’s important that we encourage parents to walk to school to ensure that roads around schools aren’t overwhelmed with cars.
“It’s vital that we choose healthy and active ways to travel. Not only for our own health and wellbeing, but to protect the strain on the NHS. It’s very important that we don’t replace one crisis with crises around inactivity, air pollution and climate change.
“We know from our work with schools across the UK that families are put off walking to school by traffic, road danger and air pollution. By removing cars, we remove these barriers.
“Living Streets Cymru has written to local authorities across Wales to call on them to improve the walk to school and make school streets safer.”
Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe is supporting Living Streets’ School Streets campaign. She said:
“During lockdown we’ve seen air pollution rates in Wales fall rapidly with cleaner air, fewer cars on the road and more people enjoying the benefits of walking and cycling.
“Let’s use that to support a permanent change to healthier ways of getting around and shifting car use to essential journeys.
“The way we work and live is changing as a result of COVID and it’s vital that we hold on to the positive changes.
“I urge local authorities to do everything they can to invest in active travel and public transport now. Otherwise we risk slipping back into the old ways – where children and parents feel unsafe on the journey to school.”
Caro Wild is Cardiff Council’s Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning and Transport where he has introduced initiatives to improve routes for walking and cycling in the city. He said:
“As schools reopen, we face a real challenge with making sure that children stay healthy on their way to school. Cardiff Council has already closed a number of streets adjacent to schools at certain times, but we need this to happen more widely and quickly, especially given the need for physical distancing. We will work with Living Streets Cymru to make sure this happens.”
As schools in Wales plan their return, it’s important that we encourage parents to walk to school to ensure that roads around schools aren’t overwhelmed. It’s vital that we choose healthy and active ways to travel. Not only for our own health and wellbeing, but to protect the strain on the NHS.
Living Streets is calling on parents, teachers and anyone concerned about safety around the school gates to write to their local school and council via our online form, urging them to invest in School Streets.
You can also download a toolkit which will help you to organise a School Street in your area.