4 August 2020
A Reading mother is mobilising residents, parents and head teachers to support the establishment of the town’s first ‘School Street’, where traffic is blocked off during drop-off and collection times.
Catherine Whipple is hoping that School Street status will be conferred upon Crescent Road, which has three schools with some 2000 students.
“We wanted our children to feel safe, and free and happy when they walk to school. We want them to breathe fresh air and feel free,” she said.
“Walking or cycling to school is a great way to start the day – and a great way to get into good habits for later life. Learn to like walking as a child and you will walk for the rest of your life.
“Yet too often walking to school isn’t fun, or free or happy. The street our school is on has three schools on it. Over two thousand children make their way there each day – but they are not protected from cars, at all. There is no crossing. No lollipop lady. It is chaotic and, for a small child, frightening.
“The road is a dangerous rat run,” she said. “Drivers speed along it, people park along its double yellows, engines idling, fumes pouring out. There are several accidents on this road every year. How can children learn to love walking on this street?
“So a group of parents at the school decided it was time to change for the better. So that is what we are trying to do: have a School Streets scheme on Crescent Road. Alfred Sutton school has already written to the council showing their firm support. Maiden Erleigh school is also in support. The government itself supports this scheme: it is pushing for School Streets to expand across the country,” she said.
Ms Whipple started a petition in support of the scheme and has already gained 200 signatures.
Crescent Road could be joining a rapidly growing number of school streets across the country and in London, where the school run reportedly generates a quarter of the city traffic.
Paul Gittings, chair of Reading’s Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport Committee, says the council is “fully supportive of all schemes which encourage school pupils to either walk or cycle to school, where it is possible.
“School Streets is a great initiative that will make it safer, particularly in areas very close to the school where traffic often accumulates. As a council we are actively engaging with schools to help them bring forward sustainable schemes that will be of great benefit, at the same time helping the council to meet its wider objectives on tackling climate change and improving the environment, particularly around air quality.”
The council is understood to be sending out updated guidance to schools, some of which have made enquiries.
School Streets were first introduced in Italy in 1989, and in Scotland in 2015, according to the website SchoolStreets.org, which has guidance for people who want to establish School Streets.
A group of activists in London frustrated by alleged inaction by their local council recently blocked off roads to cars in Wandsworth to ensure social distancing for children going to and from school.
Ms Whipple said of the proposal to turn Crescent Road into a School Street: “The closures will be brief – just 40 minutes every morning and evening. But effective. It will make the air fresher and the road safer.
“And it will, we hope, let our children travel to school in safety, to breathe fresh air, and learn to love exercise. And make the air cleaner for everyone.”