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Closing school streets to traffic to create safer and cleaner environments in the London Borough of Croydon (UK)

By heloise.thibault / Updated: 06 Mar 2019

Idling engines, traffic jams, dangerous parking: these are common issues around schools as parents arrive to drop and pick-up their children. These trips lead to unsafe roads and poorer air quality surrounding some of the most vulnerable people. In London, Croydon has trialled street closures in front of three schools in the past year to try to solve these issues. These trials have proved successful, so the borough is now planning to expand the initiative to three more schools before September 2019, and then to a five further schools in 2020.

Context 

The London Borough of Croydon is located in the South of London, and has a population of 384 837 inhabitants, making it one of the biggest boroughs in the city. It has a total of 90 schools, for which the council is responsible, and 22.2 % of the population is estimated to be younger than 15 (the figure for London as a whole is 20.5 %).

Concerns over school runs have been growing over the years in the borough. Traffic protection was mainly provided by 'zig-zag' controls and parking restrictions and, more recently, Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs) at identified hot-spots. Yet these measures did not have a significant impact. Facing requests from parents, residents, teachers, police and local politicians, the Parking Services of Croydon decided to trial school street closures in three locations.

The main purpose of the scheme was to support a modal shift from cars, improve safety for children and improve air quality. The trial was embedded with the transport vision for the borough and acted as a complementary measure for the Air Quality Action Plan 2017-2022. Other measures already in place included: encouraging sustainable transport, planting trees around school paths, encouraging schools to join the Transport for London STARS accreditation, installing air quality monitoring equipment in schools and carrying out air quality audits. The trial was also developed in line with the Mayor of London’s Transport Strategy, the overarching London framework on transport.

In action 

The pilot banned motorised vehicles from school streets during school opening and closing hours (Monday to Friday, 8 am to 9:30 am, 2 pm or 2:30 pm to 4 pm). Enforcement was undertaken through the installation of CCTV and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology. During the first month, offenders were served Warning Notices. After this period, Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) were issued (£130 or £65 if paid within 14 days). The pilot project lasted from September 2017 to May 2018. Signs at the entrances of targeted roads were put in place and ‘Park-and-Stride’ was widely encouraged. A system of exemptions was created for pedal cycles, security vehicles, undertaker services, statutory vehicles and valid permit holders (e.g. residents, school representatives and parents with dispensation). Capital costs associated with the implementation of the three sites came to £144 783 and yearly running costs were £55 460. During the trial period, £166 571 were collected through PCNs, and £174 452 was due at the end of the trial.

Methodology

The pilot was introduced utilising ‘Experimental Traffic Orders’, a legal instrument allowing parking authorities to modify traffic and parking regulations for an 18-month period without having to undertake prior public consultation. The consultation takes place concurrently with the implementation of the scheme. Official public notice of the pilot was given three months before the start, and publications outlining the pilot appeared in two local newspapers, as well as on lamp posts. Letters were sent out to occupiers and parents via the schools. Finally, information was added on the council’s website. Official bodies were also consulted (but did not express any objections). Feedback from the public notice consultation was carefully considered, with the initial consultation (September 2017 to March 2018) receiving 27 responses, 21 objecting and 6 in favour. The objectors mainly posed questions on the possible increase in traffic in the surrounding areas, the obstruction of driveways and safety concerns. Residents in favour saw the chance for safer roads and quieter traffic. During the consultation period, an unofficial questionnaire was distributed around the trial schools: 125 were opposed, 24 in support and 7 respondents did not have an opinion. The council has published these alongside the report on the trials.

Results 

A ‘hands-up’ survey was undertaken by one of the schools a year prior to, and at the end of the scheme. It showed an increase in 12 % of active travel modes (53 % to 65 %) and a reduction of 8% in car usage (34 % to 26 %). Although there are questions with respect to the methodology used in achieving these results, they are correlated with further investigation into the two other schools. School representatives have also perceived positive effects: quieter streets, a considerable increase in public transport usage and a decline in pupil lateness. The three schools where the pilot took place were in favour of a permanent implementation of the scheme.

Challenges, opportunities and transferability 

Multiple issues were raised by stakeholders throughout the process of implementing the trial. School officials were concerned that pupil punctuality would be affected, which has proven not to be the case, and had to face residents’ opposition to the scheme. The unofficial questionnaire contained concerns of residents and some parents, with objections regarding: 

  • the legality of the process;
  • the absence of consultation beforehand;
  • the likeliness of increased traffic;
  • the shortage of parking spaces for residents;
  • the absence of proof for air pollution reduction;
  • the lack of enforcement;
  • the perception of increasingly blocked driveways;
  • speeding and abusive behaviour by certain people following the introduction of the measures.

All these concerns were addressed by the Parking Services team in an official report highlighting the legality of the process and reminding residents that the aim was not to increase parking space but to nurture a safer environment for children. The report also clarified the nature of Experimental Traffic Orders, as well as enforcement. The responses also included propositions to replace the trial by a one-way road system. It was underlined by Parking Services that this arrangement was already informally in place and was widely ignored. A second concern of the service was that such a system would penalise residents.

From a local authority perspective, two main observations arose from the pilot:

  • Due to rapid implementation, the scheme was not preceded by car occupancy surveys, which would have been useful;
  • For Parking Services, the large number of exemption permits that were issued caused some operational issues and increased workload for ANPR enforcement teams.

Regarding financing, money raised by PCNs were sufficient to cover the costs of implementation.

Strengths:

  • suppression of traffic jams in front of schools;
  • increase in active travel and public transport use;
  • post-trial wide user acceptance;
  • support from schools.

Challenges:

  • resident opposition;
  • hard to obtain clear data;
  • possible report of traffic in neighbouring streets.

Following this experiment, Croydon has decided to make the scheme permanent and to extend it to additional schools. A consultation has been launched on including another eight schools in the initiative. As of February 2019, the consultation has been running for three weeks and has received 150 contributions. Respondents are largely in favour and tend to quote the pilot sites to justify their support (rather than the official report developed by the local authority). Regarding improvements in this second phase, the scheme has been renamed ‘School Street’ for the sake of clarity. It is currently under consideration to extend vehicle restrictions to roads affected by vehicle displacement.

In Depth 

- Report to the Traffic Management Advisory Committee on The Croydon pedestrianised school zone https://democracy.croydon.gov.uk/documents/s8758/TMAC%20Schools%20ANPR%2...
- Croydon School Travel Plans https://www.croydon.gov.uk/transportandstreets/school-travel-plans

Topic: 
Urban mobility planning
Public and stakeholder involvement
Walking and cycling
Region: 
Western Europe
Country: 
United Kingdom
City: 
London
Author: 
heloise.thibault
Keywords: 
schools
road safety
children
active mobility
vehicle access restrictions
pilot
London
28 Feb 2019
06 Mar 2019
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