London neighborhoods are introducing “School Streets” — closing roads to traffic in the morning and afternoon to encourage schoolchildren and parents to walk and bike.
Just before 3 p.m. on weekdays, a subtle change unfolds on Lowden Road in south London. The street grows quiet as parents start to wander in from different directions, bound for the entrances of Jessop Primary School. Many walk in the middle of the road, prams in tow; others roll up on bicycles. Car traffic all but disappears.
Then, the gates open. Out of the school come children, running out to meet their carers on scooters, cycles or their own two feet. The division between curb and street practically becomes non-existent. One mother, who arrives by bike to pick up her young daughter, rides by and tells me: “I used to get a taxi or Zipcar, but I can’t come here with those so now I just cycle. It’s made a big difference.”
Jessop Primary School is home to a “School Street,” one of the latest interventions in the U.K. to promote walking and cycling among both kids and adults. In the morning and afternoon rush, through-traffic on roads in front of participating schools is effectively halted through the use of either cameras or barriers staffed by volunteers. (Access is allowed to residents, delivery and emergency vehicles, buses and those with mobility issues.) The idea is to give children and parents the space to safely get to and from school — which, in the Covid-19 era, has taken on a whole new meaning.
School Streets predate the pandemic — the first came to London in 2017. But they’ve proliferated dramatically nationwide in recent months, as consecutive rounds of “active travel” funding from Westminster has allowed local councils — as here, in the borough of Lambeth — to roll out dozens of “emergency” setups at a breakneck pace. London alone is seeing well over 400 new School Streets go in. Together, the schemes present perhaps the most substantive change to how children get to school here in generations.