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A School Streets scheme at Larkrise school, Oxford?

Children, Oxford, — February 2020

Air pollution and road danger are among the greatest threats to children's health and lives in the United Kingdom; both are aggravated by motor traffic outside schools at pick-up and drop-off times. School Streets schemes offer a way of reducing this, through traffic restrictions outside schools during key periods of the day.

Road danger and air pollution are the primary concerns, but other gains from such schemes include getting more children walking or cycling to school, improving their fitness and health, and reducing congestion on the road system more broadly.

Oxfordshire County Council has plans to implement School Streets schemes at four schools in Oxford: Larkrise, SS Mary and John, St Ebbes, and Windmill. These are pilots, and if successful would be used as models for other schools. Here I discuss the state of proposals for Larkrise, as the school I am most familiar with.

A "School Streets" scheme involves restricting motor traffic outside schools at pickup and dropoff times. For background, see a general argument for action and an explanation of the implementation details. (A permanent restriction on motor traffic would be a modal filter, perhaps implemented as part of a low traffic neighbourhood, as has been proposed for the broader Florence Park area.)

Hackney has gone furthest in implementing School Streets schemes, with four of five pilot schemes now permanent and a dozen more in the pipeline, but other authorities that are planning them include Islington, Waltham Forest, and Southampton.

There was a morning meeting outside Larkrise school on Tuesday 28th January to look at the situation. This involved county officers from public health, highways, and parking, the head teacher, Friends of the Earth, and several parents and residents. The following are some of the things we discussed (that I can remember):

The Hackney approach would involve an automatic number plate camera covering entry to Boundary Brook, restricting access at key times to residents and employees. This is not possibly here because only local authorities in London and Wales have the power to control moving traffic that way (other than on bus routes).

The simplest option - timed "no entry" signs - may be difficult because there's nowhere to place the eastern one that will allow vehicles to turn safely.

One particular concern of the county officers is danger from reversing vehicles. We got to see a few examples. Another concern is with poor visibility resulting from parked vehicles at crossings and on corners.

Action to restrict traffic here will be connected with implementation of a Controlled Parking Zone. (Boundary Brook is not currently part of one, but has seen a huge increase in parked vehicles following the recent introduction of schemes to the north and north-west. Realistically it's only a matter of time before one is implemented here.)

Other possible interventions include extending the zigzags outside the school (if necessary by adding a second one to get around length limits), removing the parking across the road from the school, and narrowing the carriageway directly outside the school, perhaps just with shading and double-yellow lines, since moving the kerbs or putting in physical barriers would be expensive.

Double-yellow-lining might be an option to protect the connection to the foot-cycle path to Florence Park from parking (which obscures visibility even if vehicles aren't moving).

These concerns extend more broadly. I didn't get a chance to show the officers the northern crossing of Boundary Brook (used to access the lane to Howard St): road narrowing or a formal crossing here may be too expensive, but double-yellows could be used to protect the crossing from parking and ensure visibility. And a parent mentioned problems on Campbell Rd, but we didn't look at that directly either. The anti-pedestrian (two and a half minutes to cross, in four stages) signalling on the junction of Donnington Bridge and Iffley Rds is unlikely to change unless we get major traffic reduction (Connecting Oxford?) or a change of priorities. And so forth.

At the moment we're waiting for the county officers to come back with some proposals. Then we may have a struggle to find funding to implement them.

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