School Streets improve air quality, new Foundation funded study shows

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Testing funded by the Foundation took place at 18 primary schools across the London boroughs of Brent, Enfield and Lambeth to record nitrogen dioxide levels.
Testing funded by the Foundation took place at 18 primary schools across the London boroughs of Brent, Enfield and Lambeth to record nitrogen dioxide levels.

Closing roads around schools to traffic at pick-up and drop-off times reduced polluting nitrogen dioxide levels by up to 23 percent reveals a new study of the Mayor of London’s ‘School Streets’ programme, which was funded by the FIA Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The new study also found that 18 percent of parents reported that they drove to school less as a result of School Streets intervention.

Around half of London’s emissions come from road transport, and London’s toxic air already leads to thousands of premature deaths in the capital every year as well as stunting the development of young lungs and increasing cases of respiratory illness. Air pollution has also been linked to increased risk of contracting Covid-19 and experiencing the most serious effects.

The study – which was launched in September 2020 – involved installing 30 cutting-edge sensors from the Breathe London network at 18 primary schools across the London boroughs of Brent, Enfield and Lambeth, to record nitrogen dioxide levels where school streets were in place and in neighbouring areas. Testing was designed to build an accurate picture of how the School Streets scheme is working to change travel behaviour and, as a result, improve air quality.

More than 300 School Streets have been put in place by Transport for London (TfL) to tackle children’s exposure to air pollution and improve their health. Roads surrounding schools are closed to motor traffic at drop-off and pick-up times, enabling children to walk or cycle to school, reducing car trips and improving air quality. School Streets also provide space for social distancing and help to reduce road danger around schools, making journeys safer and easier.

The FIA Foundation has previously worked with the Mayor of London on a number of clean air projects. Cleaner Air For Schools was a learning exchange programme linking primary schools in London, Nairobi and Delhi, while the TRUE Initiative provided real-world emissions data for the Mayor’s Used Car Checker as well as informing the policy to accelerate the electrification of black cabs.

Recent polling showed that 68 percent of Londoners are very or fairly concerned about air quality, and 62 percent support infrastructure changes around schools, according to YouGov for the Child Health Initiative, a global health partnership co-ordinated by the FIA Foundation, between 7 August 2020 and 2 September 2020. Further Transport for London (TfL) survey results also suggest that interventions outside schools to make walking and cycling safer are popular with parents and with 81 percent of those surveyed at schools where measures had been implemented believed a School Street is suitable for their school.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “I am doing everything in my power to stop Londoners breathing air so filthy that it damages children’s lungs and causes thousands of premature deaths every year. Since 2016, there has been a 97 per cent reduction in the number of schools in areas which exceed the legal pollution limit and I’m committed to bringing that number down to zero.

“School Streets, play an important role in enabling parents and children to walk, cycle or scoot to and from school which has so many benefits, not least in improving air quality. It’s great to see the huge reduction in nitrogen dioxide during pick up and drop off on schools streets – a time where countless children and adults would otherwise be exposed to dangerous emissions. Too many lives are already lost each year as a result of our city’s toxic air and the results of our monitoring study show just how much of a difference reducing car journeys through School Streets makes.”

Sheila Watson, Deputy Director of the FIA Foundation, said: “These results show that even in the short time they were in place, the Mayor’s School Streets have had an important impact on air quality by improving how communities move around their local environment. There is a strong case to make School Streets a permanent fixture not just here in London but in cities across the world where children endure the double threat of toxic air and road injury on their way to school. They all deserve better.”

Michael R. Bloomberg, U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, and former New York City Mayor, added,: “Cutting air pollution and protecting children’s health starts with collecting accurate data – and that’s exactly what London has done through Mayor Sadiq Khan’s effective School Streets initiative. This initiative empowers the public to fight air pollution and make school communities healthier and safer, and it’s exciting to think how its findings could help strengthen air quality measures not just across London, but in cities that follow suit around the world.”