During the first national lockdown in spring 2020, the streets of our towns and cities were almost deserted leading to a widely reported improvement in air quality standards.
However, lockdown 3.0, the UK’s latest series of national restrictions that started in January 2021, saw traffic levels across the UK’s major cities, including Manchester, remain at more than 80% of the pre-COVID-19 levels according to our latest data.
These latest findings have led to real concerns that, as restrictions continue to ease in the coming months, traffic levels may actually surge ahead of pre-lockdown levels. This is a particular concern as many people are opting to use their car ahead of public transport when travelling.
It is no secret that emissions from road traffic have the greatest single impact on our air quality so for the long-term health of the nation we must do more to reduce these rising pollution levels.
So, with children now back at school, and roads across the country already congested, we need to ask: “What toxic pollutants are children living in major towns and cities currently being exposed to?”
The power of School Street Zones
To help improve the air quality around schools, schemes like ‘School Street Zones’ are increasingly being introduced. This ensures the immediate areas outside education settings are kept clear of traffic during the busy ‘drop-off’ and ‘pick-up’ times. The zones are already not only improving air quality but also significantly advancing road safety in the streets around a school – helping promote active travel choices for parents and their children.
School Street Zones are a designated area of typically one road with a camera at the start and end of the zone, but multiple roads can be covered by the installation of more cameras. Each camera is able to monitor vehicles as they enter the area during specified periods and Siemens Mobility has now deployed this solution across a number of local authorities with the company’s automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras at the heart of the scheme.
Whilst there are pockets of School Street Zone initiatives up and running across England, Scotland and Wales, the majority of these schemes are in and around London, leaving school children in the rest of the UK, particularly the North, unable to benefit from cleaner air and safer travel to and from their school.
Make the school gates greener
Local authorities across the North West and Manchester region will soon be permitted to enforce moving traffic offences and implement School Street Zones later this year due to changes in Government regulation. At the moment, schools in Manchester can only place bollards or temporary measures at the school’s gates to try and make the area safer. Using technology to enforce school streets and introducing fines for those who do not comply is likely to accelerate behavioural change and encourage drivers to comply with the regulations.
Jon Turner, managing director of distribution systems for Siemens in the UK and non-executive director of a local educational trust, commented: “With many people choosing to travel by car as a result of COVID-19, the issue of air pollution isn’t going away anytime soon and is only going to get worse unless we do something about it.
"Our local school children are now back at school and deserve to breathe in cleaner air on their way into, and out of, the school gates. By enforcing School Street Zones in the future we can improve air quality for local children for many years to come.”
There are also clear benefits associated with encouraging families to shift to active travel such as walking or cycling. This not only includes improved physical health and well-being, but with safer streets around their schools, children will also be able to walk confidently to and from school.
It is hoped that by this time next year local authorities in and around Manchester will have measures in place to make sure the school gates are safer, less congested and greener, making a positive difference to the health and well-being of local children and their families.
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