Saturday, 5 November 2016

Schools: Beyond The Hi-Viz

I upset a school a couple of weeks back by having a pop at them promoting hi-viz and at least out in Twitterland, I said I would revisit the subject; hence this post!

It's *really* easy for me to criticise others and so this week, I want to give my view on what a powerful position schools command and how they could capitalise on it.

I ended by previous post by stating;

My message to schools is that it is right for you, as community leaders, to take an interest in the safety of our children. But, please don't buy into this hi-viz crap, put your influence to work in demanding changes to our streets and systems to protect our children as this is a long term investment and not an annual garish fix.

Schools are at the heart of our communities and they are well positioned to enable change. For children, the daily school run will expose them to all sorts of travel behaviour, the behaviour of other people and indeed will help form their own travel habits, so it is the golden opportunity to rebalance our transport systems.

The other thing about schools is they create all sorts of informal links with parents and indeed between parents, so news and ideas can spread. Children have amazing powers of persuasion and they don't have the dogma of how we have traditional planned transport or how we have let it develop.

The school run is also the cause of much complaint within the wider community. People complain about (traffic) congestion and then wax lyrical about the roads being quieter during school holidays. During term time, there is the battle between parents parking badly and residents getting drives blocked in, parents parking on the footway or on restrictions and just how it's made awful for those walking (and to a far lesser extent) cycling with their children to school. Of course, we also have a whole range of other issues associated with a lack of active travel such as health, pollution and so on.

So, what do schools do now (other than the hi-viz issue!) Well, many have school travel plans in place and they are good tools in their own right. They allow schools to generate travel data and to measure mode share over time and they are also a focus of initiatives to encourage parents and pupils to shift from private car journeys to other modes.

School travel planning used to be pretty dull, report-driven and time-heavy for schools. Fortunately we can do a lot of this online. In London, Transport for London runs the STARS programme and elsewhere, we have the Modeshift STARS scheme (both are free to join). Both schemes look to award bronze, silver and gold standards for travel planning. There are some differences, but a bronze school will have started to look at activities to effect mode change, silver schools will have data to show mode change and have a substantial programme of activities and gold schools will be excelling in activities with a noticeable mode shift (the TfL scheme seems to be a little more numbers-led on the shift).

I have been working with schools on and off for many years and I have seen the change from the old report-based methodology to the STARS approach and some schools have achieved significant shifts over the years. At least in my area, we have quite a high number of schools with gold accreditation, but as with other parts of London and the UK, it is a bit patchy (but do have a search to see what your local school is doing).

One of the largest barriers to engagement is the attitude of the head teacher and indeed staff resources to organise and manage the process, but I think it is an excellent scheme and in the absence of significant infrastructure change, the mode shift some schools achieve is frankly astonishing.

But that's the problem. Although are physical things which can be done to help enable active travel, it is limited to things such a providing secure cycle and scooter parking in a school. Infrastructure outside the of the school gate doesn't feature, unless it is route planning, safety awareness or parking campaigns and I think this misses the power of the process. I have spoken a local school travel planning events over the years and the theme I have always covered is that of enabling change through infrastructure.

This has been listened to by some schools and in terms of activities (in the broadest sense), they have started to ask for changes to local streets. From a funding bid point of view, this is really helpful when trying to convince councillors to include an engineering measure as the ask shifts from "staff" ideas to being something demand by the local community. But, I think this needs to go way bigger and it is the schools which are key.

The TfL STARS website suggests that the average school journey is under 1 kilometre or a 10 minute walk. This is a big area around a school and with a bit of map plotting, we find that 1km catchments around schools (at least in urban areas) often overlap or come close to each other and it is also the case that two or more schools might have similar barriers to enabling active travel.

In the current so-called austerity times, there is less money than ever before for local transport and this is perverse because 66% of journeys are under 5 miles, 38% under 2 miles and 19% under 1 miles. There is no leap of the imagination required to understand that within school areas, we have lots of people living, we have shops, we have businesses - all people who have local travel needs which are not going to be dealt with by building motorways.

I think schools should be at the heart of this. Call it community travel planning if you like, but it needs schools and coalitions of schools with other community groups to start identifying a lack of decent walking and cycling infrastructure in their travel plans. They then need to plan and prioritise what would make real change (forget the technical stuff, that's for the engineers to worry about).

The approach means that common problems can be addressed with shared resources. When it finally comes to engaging with the people elected to make decisions (yes, councillors, I mean you), a very compelling and community-led plan could be the result. So yes, my message to schools is very much to see far beyond the hi-viz and take your place in deal with the causes of our local transport problems and not papering over the cracks with day-glo.


  1. Maybe children can create local maps of where they go, how they do it now and how they would like to do it?

  2. Hi, I recently got involved in the school travel plan at my local primary in west Sussex. What immediately stuck me about it was the chicken and egg type scenario, where you have to demonstrate modal shift before the council start to do anything about it, when the main factor in failing to achieve modal shift lies with the infra design.

    Are there any easy wins I should be guiding the school towards in order to get silver/gold status?

    I'd appreciate any advice you may have.