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School road safety: reducing car traffic

Let’s talk about school road safety. The school holidays give us all a change of pace and the lack of traffic is very noticeable in many if not most residential areas in the UK. This drop is, at least partly, because there are no school runs. According to one data set, 43% of morning car journeys in some parts of London are linked to the school run with a typical proportion being 30% (1). This is a major issue. 


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Car use remains prevalent on the school run, but the narrative around school travel is changing fast. Increasingly, school travel policies are ambitious and relate to factors such as improving air quality; reducing greenhouse gas emissions; promoting active lifestyles for parents and children; and improving road safety around schools.

 The outcome wanted in most cases is a reduction in private car journeys on the school run. The government policies in all parts of the UK seek to encourage this  “modal shift” - shorthand for changing the mode of transport to walking, cycling or use of public transport. The UK government policy favouring sustainable school travel was published in 2014 (2).

However, despite national and local policies, a number of barriers has meant that the proportion of school journeys undertaken by private cars is not decreasing. The barriers relate to a variety of policy areas: planning policies - schools being built away from homes and the communities using them; policies around school choice that are often popular with parents and politicians but create additional traffic; and the imperatives of parents travelling to work that lead to “chained journeys.” Last but absolutely not least, there is failure to improve walking and cycling routes to schools which leads many parents to judge local roads to be too dangerous to permit their child to walk or cycle to school. 

Understanding why there is resistance to modal shift in a community is essential if policies and measures are to be rolled out that address real barriers to change. We have found that the first step in understanding general attitudes is to acknowledge that in every school there are different communities with different opinions on school travel. Broadly, these communities are:

  1. Parents and guardians responsible for children’s attendance at school and their safety and wellbeing.
  2. School staff who may have childcare responsibility but for whom the school is a workplace travel destination.
  3. Children and young adults attending schools and FE colleges.
  4. Neighbours in areas surrounding schools who are impacted by school traffic and busier public transport during school start and end times. 

Each will respond differently to any proposed changes and will need different considerations for a new policy to be understood and accepted. 

Commonplace has been widely used for different aspects of school journey planning. We’ve already proven useful and effective in obtaining community views to assess and alleviate barriers.. By enabling the different communities to express their views and priorities, Commonplace has obtained data that is ready for granular analysis and to be used for policy-making. Equally important is that through Commonplace’s transparency and clear display of plans and images, the different communities, local authorities and community groups can learn of each other’s concerns.

Comprehensive community engagement: Commonplace in East Renfrewshire

East Renfrewshire

 

In several locations, Commonplace has been and is used to map problem locations on the school journey, to survey different communities and then to present potential solutions. This way, Commonplace becomes the information and engagement hub for school travel policy development.

In East Renfrewshire near Glasgow, the Council has used Commonplace in exactly this way. The Commonplace Heatmap has been gathering information about the barriers to walking and cycling. In parallel, the council conducted a comprehensive survey that sought views from different groups in relation to travel to 41 schools and nurseries. The way the data has been gathered makes it very easy to group by location and caress-analyses against the demographic characteristics of the respondents. 

The East Renfrewshire project covered all local education locations and had over 5,000 unique visitors and 1,490 unique respondents. 

 

Designing local school streets

A similarly comprehensive use of Commonplace is in West Berkshire. It started with mapping exercises and has now moved to presenting specific schemes - here is an example of one question from a wider set:

This is an open Commonplace so you can click on the link and view all the contributions and see how resident and parents’ voices are heard. The increased accountability that comes with this level of transparency is also helpful in building trust when approaching difficult and locally-controversial topics.Commonplace survey contributions

 

On a wider scale, the London Borough of Lewisham has used Commonplace to introduce and discuss nearly 40 School Street schemes with local communities. The 2021 programme also made extensive use of Commonplace’s News Feed to inform local people on implementation and new iterations of local plans. The website was active for under a year and had nearly 11,000 unique visitors. 

A note on working with minors

Many readers of this blog will be well-aware of the rules that limit children’s participation in online surveys. The Information Commissioner’s Office limits gathering personal information from under 13 year olds and many schools and public bodies will not allow under 16s or under 18s to take part in online surveys unless there is a mechanism for obtaining parental consent or if there are special circumstances that warrant or mandate an exception.

Nevertheless, obtaining children’s perspective on road safety and understanding their view on school road safety as they experience it is vitally important. There are some useful workarounds that we have deployed. For example, it is possible to create a specific version of Commonplace for minors where no personal information is gathered and if desired, respondents cannot see each other’s comments.Creating a separate website also provides an opportunity to use wording that is appropriate for younger visitors and you can link content to elements of the curriculum where appropriate. 

Older children - 16 and over typically - can easily use the regular website and we have had good experience in training young adults in using Commonplace with Survey Mode to interview their peers and also older people, as an intergenerational exercise. 


As we start thinking about the new school year, contact Commonplace to discuss how you can widen the conversation about modal shifts on the school run, and how Commonplace can help navigate difficult conversations.

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Sources:

  1. Air Quality News
  2. Home to school travel and transport guidance Statutory guidance for local authorities Department for Education

David Janner-Klausner

David Janner-Klausner

Co-founder & Deputy CEO

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