Safety first: Three new School Streets in Hackney

School Streets signs at Queensbridge School. Pic: Clara Murray

Three new School Streets have been opened at schools in Upper Clapton, Hackney Central and Dalston. The system of altered traffic flow and road closures outside primary schools will contribute to Hackney Council’s pledge to lower emissions in the area.

The new streets at Harrington Hill School, in Upper Clapton, Queensbridge School, Dalston, and the Olive School in Hackney follow 28 others put in place in the borough in September. Funding has also been approved for 10 more streets to be launched. Then “nearly all primary schools in Hackney will have a School Street”, according to the Council’s online plan for “rebuilding a greener Hackney”. 

Councillor John Burke, Cabinet Member for Energy, Waste, Transport and Public Realm, said in a statement: “Nearly 87% of children in Hackney walk, cycle or take public transport to school. We want to encourage even more to walk or cycle by improving road safety and air quality.”  

School Streets introduce pedestrian and cycle zones from 8:30-9:30am and from 3:00-4:00pm, Monday to Friday, during term time. These zones deny entry to private vehicles which do not belong to residents or businesses on the streets.

Sarah Bailey, Headteacher at Queensbridge School, has been concerned about the safety around her school’s gates for some time. Drivers make three-point turns in the street, “narrowly missing children as they are dropped off”. “It is dangerous and puts my children at risk,” Bailey told Eastlondonlines. “Sadly, fining seems to be the only way to ensure the streets are safer.”

Since the introduction of the first School Streets in 2017, the proportion of children cycling to participating schools in Hackney has increased by over 50%, with traffic outside the schools reducing by around two-thirds, improving air quality at school opening and closing times. 

Hackney has been praised for its hands-on approach. Stephen Edwards, Director of Policy and Communications at Living Streets, a charity that encourages everyday walking, called Hackney “an examplar of what can be achieved through these kinds of programs” at the London Walking and Cycling Conference on 22 October 2020.

Benefits

Living Streets has long been an advocate for the School Streets program, and “would like to see School Streets implemented at secondary schools too”, said Kylie ap Garth, a member of Hackney Living Streets and a parent. Garth cited “the reduction in traffic outside the school, improved air quality, a reduction in road danger for children travelling to school, and the potential to develop a young person’s independence” as important benefits of the project.

Hackney Council was one of the first in the country to implement School Streets, and in May 2019 even launched a ‘nationwide blueprint’ to enable other authorities to do the same. Councillors said the toolkit was motivated by the interest shown in School Streets from as far afield as Toronto and Singapore.

The school street system is one of many projects run by the council in order to improve the borough’s emissions in the wake of the pandemic. But the warm reception the project has received contrasts with the anger felt by many locals about other traffic reduction measures, such as the controversial Low Traffic Neighbourhoods spread around the borough.

A Twitter account entitled “Stop Horrendous Hackney Road Closures” has even launched a website which airs the grievances of residents inconvenienced by initiatives such as Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, encouraging residents to join in their campaign against the “undemocratic, draconian road closures” created by the Council.

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