Monday Musing - its Walk to School week

If you do school runs remember it is Walk to School week this week which aims to reduce emissions around schools. We support this great campaign and encourage our members to too. Two thirds of parents are concerned about the effect air pollution has on their child's health according to Living Streets, who we also campaign with to prevent obstructive pavement parking.  Car free and anti-idling zones are some of the ways that schools are helping to reduce children’s exposure to harmful vehicle emissions. There are many other practical steps schools can take too...

401 Levels of air pollution on school run

Air pollution is the UK’s top environmental risk to human health. Between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year are estimated to be attributed to long-term exposure to poor air quality (Report by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants). Transport emissions are the biggest cause of air pollution and the fact that they are largely invisible to the eye does not help.
When it comes to exposure to air pollution, children are classified as a vulnerable group and schools are hotspots with great potential to improve the air quality around them.     
The latest National Travel Survey in 2017 revealed over 40 per cent of five to 10-year-olds travelled to school by car or van.
Public Health England released their air quality evidence review last month part of which specifically focuses on what interventions are needed to reduce the ill effects transport emissions have on the development of children’s lungs and links to increases in asthma.
The report says we should be: “working with children and their parents to implement no-idling zones outside schools, make it easy for children to walk or cycle to school and increase public awareness in relation to air pollution and children. This will reduce air pollution in the vicinity of schools and reducing children’s exposure accordingly.”

Action to take

So, what other practical steps can schools take so that children are less exposed to vehicle emissions? Clearly the first priority is to reduce vehicle emissions from occurring in the first place; secondly, to reduce the concentration of emissions around schools and thirdly, reduce exposure to the emissions.
There are suggested steps that schools can take. They could put pressure on local government to improve road and pavement layouts; have urban greening schemes; create active travel routes through green spaces; have infrastructure that encourages walking and cycling; and provide more school buses.
Schools could also request local government to work with schools to create no-idling zones outside schools and ask local government to do an air quality audit of local primary schools.
What’s more, a school travel survey could identify hot spots where children travel from and the mode of transport they take each day.
Another way to help tackle the air pollution is to ask car users if they are willing to use alternative transport like car share, cycle or walk, and identify from the hotspots where a walking bus or a ‘park and walking bus’ would be most popular.
Parent, carer, staff and governors could be nominated as Air Quality Champions to create and incentivise regular walk to school days, as well as join local and national campaigns such as Clean Air Day on 20 June, Walk to School Week on 20-24 May, and Big Pedal on 25 March to 5 April.
Air quality and the benefits of leaving the car at home could also be included on the school curriculum.
Schools could ask local government Civil Enforcement Officers (formally known as traffic wardens) to do regular checks to ensure the ‘school keep clear’ zones are clear of vehicles
To reduce exposure to emissions, schools could retain existing hedges and consider planting new hedges or trees if practical, as they can be good at catching some particulates. They can also raise childrens’ awareness of the dangers of breathing in car emissions which can generate pester power.

Pupil power

Over the last few months we have seen the power of grassroots action. 15-year-old Swedish school girl Greta Thunberg formed a School Strikes global youth movement for climate change last August which has quickly gained momentum across the globe. Also a new study in the United States on the power of involving school children has been published. It found three quarters of parents whose children entered a poster competition on clean air reported their children had talked to them about air pollution.
Just last month, the direct action of Steve Marsland, headteacher at Russell Scott primary school in Greater Manchester made national headlines when he appointed children to issue fake parking tickets on cars parked outside the school to highlight parents’ inconsiderate parking or idling cars. This was done following a rise in asthma cases at the school.

Opportunity to work with local government

With pressure on many local authorities to start implementing plans to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels by 2020, it creates an opportunity for schools to work with them to help achieve this.
A few local authorities are adopting some creative approaches. For example, Glasgow City Council plans to trial car-free zones outside seven primary schools across the city, in effect creating temporary pedestrian areas. Leeds City Council has given hundreds of scooters to 30 primary schools to help reduce the number of cars outside schools at peak times: these schools will be within the Leeds Clean Air Charging Zone which comes into effect on the 6 January next year.
Reducing emissions is one area where the British Parking Association (BPA) is trying to make a difference. Our research shows that the average motorist in the UK spends nearly four days every year looking for parking spaces, highlighting the importance of having clear signs for car parks and technology such as apps to help drivers search and navigate to available parking spaces.
One third of our members are local authorities, most of who are signed-up to an initiative we support called the Positive Parking Agenda. One of its key aims is to improve air quality, reduce congestion and dwell time to find parking spaces. So why not find out what your local authority and neighbouring ones are doing to reduce vehicle emissions and share good practice?

Support #WalkToSchoolWeek. This article was published in Business Education Magazine April 2019