Air quality soars in school streets that banished cars
The study is the first of its kind to show the air quality benefits of school streets.
Ben Webster, Environment Editor
Closing roads around schools to traffic at pick-up and drop-off times has cut toxic nitrogen dioxide levels by up to 23 per cent, research has found.
Pollution sensors were installed at 18 primary schools in the London boroughs of Brent, Enfield and Lambeth in September. Half had introduced “school streets” in which traffic was temporarily banned and the other half had no restrictions.
The biggest difference was found at Kingfisher Hall Primary Academy in Enfield, where parent volunteers operated traffic barriers from 8.15 to 9.15am and 2.45 to 3.45pm, Monday to Friday. The school street has cut NO2, which is largely produced by diesel vehicles, by 23 per cent in the morning compared with schools without traffic restrictions.
Morning pollution fell by 10 per cent at Van Gogh Primary in Lambeth. Reductions in traffic due to the pandemic meant it was not possible to introduce reliable results for several schools.
The study, commissioned by Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is the first of its kind to show the air quality benefits of school streets.
More than 300 London schools have been protected by school streets since The Times’ Clean Air for All campaign, launched in May 2019, began calling for them to be introduced.
A separate survey by Transport for London suggested strong support for school streets, with 81 per cent of parents at schools that had them backing them. The survey also suggested that school streets had helped to increase the trend towards walking instead of driving to school, which has been observed during the pandemic .
At schools without restrictions, 12 per cent of parents are driving less than before the pandemic, and 18 per cent are driving less to schools with school streets.
Matt Clifford, head teacher at Kingfisher Hall, in one of the most deprived areas of London, said: “The scheme has been transformational for the wellbeing of pupils, staff and parents in such a remarkably short space of time. We now have a much calmer start to the day, where we used to face a dangerous, gridlocked road, with bad-tempered drivers and lots of angry parents. Previously we even had two pupils knocked down and injured outside the school.
“Everyone says the air now feels cleaner and we have seen a big rise in our children cycling and using scooters to get to school. School at the beginning and end of the day is a happy time again.”
Michael Bloomberg, the media tycoon who ran for the Democratic US presidential nomination, helped to fund the study through his philanthropic organisation. He said that its findings “could help improve children’s health in cities that follow suit”.
Sheila Watson, deputy director of the FIA Foundation, which also helped to pay for the monitoring, said that school streets helped children who endured “the double threat of toxic air and road injury on their way to school”.
• Air pollution levels are 25 per cent higher at primary schools within 100 metres of London’s busiest roads compared with schools farther away from such routes, a study by the charity Environmental Defense Fund Europe has shown. The levels at schools with pupils from the most deprived areas were 27 per cent higher than at those with pupils from the least deprived area.