Post-Lockdown Mobility webinar report: Walk & Bike to School – planning ahead, now!


We cannot rule out a second wave of COVID-19 in the autumn. We must provide affordable transport options to many families who lost income with the economic slow-down. And we have to respond to a growing demand for walking and cycling. We can expect more children to want to (or need to) walk and bike to school next year. What can we do to ensure the safety and support the growth of this healthy behavior? And how can we do it fast? Which measures can we implement in the months ahead before school starts?

This session was hosted by Pedro Homem de Gouveia and Maria José Rojo, who coordinate, respectively, POLIS’ Working Groups for Safety & Security, and for Active Travel & Health. 


Lien Willemkens, Consultant for Children and Youth Mobility, City of Gent 

Lien began by setting out Gent’s plans for implementing ‘school streets’, zones around schools where walking and cycling have greater priority, and car use is restricted and speeds are limited. Gent started implementing school streets in 2012, and COVID-19 has brought a renewed focus on this concept. So far sixteen permanent school streets have been created, operating for 30 minutes twice a day at the start and end of the school day. Bikes, pedestrians and emergency services can go into the school street, and other traffic can leave the zone (i.e. if it was already parked in the ‘school street’). A volunteer monitors traffic to ensure that rules are being obeyed. School street in Gent have delivered a range of benefits, including increased road safety for children, encourage more active means of getting to school, and discouraging the use of cars both for the school run and more generally.

COVID-19: Safety at the school gates
Schools reopened in Belgium on 15 May. In Gent, efforts were made to create more space for children and for parents around schools to ensure safe physical distancing. Cars usually generate queues and congestion around the school gates, so solutions were needed to tackle this and ensure safe access to schools. Several actions were implemented: School streets; the removal of parking spaces where parents typically wait in their cars; and road blocks in some parts of the street. To ensure acceptance of the project, effort was placed to communicate these changes to people living in neighbouring streets and through information sessions and flyers.  Some materials are needed to carry out schemes such as this, including roadblockers, fences and signage. Most importantly volunteers (normally within the school, parents, neighbours) are needed. To overcome the challenging situation created by COVID-19, volunteers were sought from within their volunteer department. The first week was used to test the new measures, allowing necessary adjustments to be made. 

Children and Youth Mobility Plan
The Children and Youth Mobility Plan was created by making connections with stakeholders across the City of Gent, such as the Police and neighbourhood associations. To aid development of the Plan, information was gathered on how children move in cities. The Plan sets out a long-term vision that from eight years old, every child can walk to school, to the playground and in their neighbourhoods, and that from twelve years old this is possible by bike. The Plan embraces the concept of ‘slow roads’ where people have greater priority and where walking and cycling are easy and safe. Lien closed by noting some practical advice and lessons learned about implementing school streets. First, contact schools to get them involved and committed early on. Secondly, involve people living in neighbouring areas to ensure buy-in from local residents. Finally, volunteers are key to the success of these schemes, so ensure that time is put into gathering and maintaining volunteers.

Tyler Linton, Sustainable Transport and Engagement Group Manager, London Borough of Hackney

Hackney is a London Borough located in the north of the city. The Borough has historically suffered from problems with congestion, and with cars now returning post-lockdown (as much as 90% increase from present levels), concerns have been raised about the need to respond. 

In June the Borough announced that forty additional ‘school streets’ would be implemented in primary schools (i.e. elementary schools) by September. This decision was taken to provide more space around schools to enable safe physical distancing, and woman standing in front of childrento support safe walking and cycling around schools during a period when increases in car traffic are likely.  School streets in this context are defined as time-limited ‘pedestrian and cycle only’ zones operating on weekdays. As in Gent, residents of neighbouring areas are exempt from these restrictions, and vehicles already present in the zone can leave. Fines are issued if rules are not complied with, enforced via CCTV. Because of the speed at which these streets are being implemented, the schemes will look slightly different to the previous school streets implemented in Hackney, making use of volunteers to help monitor and manage the new rules. 

Hackney has also been supporting other authorities in the creation of school streets. Various resources have been included, including the Hackney School Streets Toolkit for Professionals and a ‘case-making’ video to support local authorities in implementing school streets. A training seminar has also been created in association with Modeshift 

Tyler also pointed out a range of other temporary street changes which can be implemented to create more spece for people. Street parties, play streets, mass bike rides, and ‘anti-idling’ days can all be experimented with. These changes are likely to be one-off days, whereas school streets are year-round. 

School streets in Hackney have been shown to deliver a number of benefits. Early evidence from pilot projects shows that on average more children are walking and cycling to school and in some cases car use is reducing. Air pollution around schools fell, with reductions in NOx, PM10 and PM2.5. 

School street projects are now being pursued in a number of cities across Europe through the STARS project, of which Hackney is a partner. Hackney is also undertaking wider efforts to encourage sustainable travel to school, such as behaviour change programmes. 


Nick Butler, Modeshift STARS Accreditation Manager 

Modeshift STARS is the centre of excellence for travel planning, offering accreditation schemes for education, business and communities. Modeshift STARS has accredited nearly 1500 schools across England, facilitating safer and more sustainable travel to school. Statistics from schools partnering with Modeshift STARS show increases in walking and cycling and decreases in car use, particularly at ‘Gold’ level schools. 

Nick highlighted how collaboration and cooperation are key to achieving aims and objectives in safer and more sustainable travel to school. This is a key part of the ‘Team Modeshift’ initiative, which identifies and engages individuals who have an impact on how people travel. Nick also highlighted the need for various approaches in enabling sustainable travel to school, including a range of positive and negative cognitive and physical interventions. This includes promotion of sustainable modes, making sustainable modes easier, and making private car use more difficult. 

Nick highlighted recent changes at a national level in light of COVID-19 which encourage the establishment of school streets. The UK Government’s Traffic Management Act has been amended with the following: encouraging walking and cycling to school, for example through the introduction of more ‘school streets’... They can be effective in encouraging more walking and cycling, particularly where good facilities exist on routes to the school and where the parents, children and school are involved as part of the scheme development.” 

In light of COVID-19, new ‘Stay Safe Get Active’ zones have been promoted through Modeshift. This scheme sees measures and information provided to encourage both physical distancing and sustainable travel around schools. Additional signage and reminders on social distancing are being implemented to encourage people to practice physical distancing and travel actively to and around schools. 

Nick closed by stressing the need for a continuous process of planning, delivering and reviewing sustainable travel activity to ensure that best practices are being followed and accurate information to guide decisions is available. 


A recording of this session is available for our members to view in the Members Area (login required). To find out more about the Post-Lockdown Mobility series, please see here. 


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