How Britain solves a school run problem

‘Road safety week’ concluded last week; appropriately, I thought I’d share a small story of how boggling backward Britain is when it comes to prioritising walking and cycling in urban areas, and how we deal in such a peculiar way with issues of safety.

Arunside is a small cul-de-sac, close to the centre of Horsham.

Arunside

Arunside

There are only 62 separate properties in this cul-de-sac; that means the number of movements in and out of this close is minimal (or at least should be).

Only a matter of a few yards from Arunside are two primary schools. St John’s Catholic Primary is on the east side of Blackbridge Lane, and Arunside Primary School on the west, adjoining Arunside itself.

Arunside Primary School, and St John's Catholic Primary School

Arunside Primary School, and St John’s Catholic Primary School, with Arunside in the centre of the picture

In the 2011 census, there were 165 pupils attending Arunside, and 190 at St John’s. Around three-quarters of Arunside pupils walk to school, with the remaining quarter driven. The picture is less rosy at St John’s, where 60% are driven to school, and the remaining 40% walk. (You can find the census data for these schools here; but see the ‘health warning’ here).

Taking these two schools together, it’s reasonable to assume that there are around 150 motor vehicles arriving in this area and leaving again, every school day, both in the morning, and again in the afternoon, to drop off and pick up children.

In Summer 2012 – after much lobbying – the schools gained a zebra across Blackbridge Lane, the road dividing them. (You can see this crossing on the aerial view, above). This crossing has been accompanied by a School Safety Zone (SSZ) which attempts to stop parents parking on the road right outside the schools, with gigantic zig-zag markings –

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 12.01.42

… And a 20mph limit that only comes in to force at school opening and closing times.

20mph 'please'

20mph ‘please’

These (minor) interventions are welcome, and probably go some way towards explaining why Arunside, at least, has a reasonably good walking to school rate. However, virtually no children are cycling to these schools; Blackbridge Lane remains a hostile road, with a 30mph limit outside of this tiny (temporary) 20mph zone, and with plenty of motor traffic using it as a rat-run to bypass the traffic signals and queues in the centre of the town.

That still leaves around 150 motor vehicles arriving and departing twice a day; this presents a problem for the surrounding streets and cul-de-sacs – in particular, Arunside, as we shall see.

I was recently told that a lollipop lady actually volunteers here to allow school children, and their families, to cross this cul-de-sac. Not the main road between the schools; only the entrance to this dead-end road.

Where the lollipop lady helps people cross; not the main road; across this dead end road

Where the lollipop lady helps people cross. Not across the main road; across this dead end road

I couldn’t quite believe this, until I passed by and saw it happening for myself.

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 11.11.33

Blackbridge Lane, with Arunside on the left. The two schools are on the bend in the distance.

Reminder – this a very minor side street, containing only around 60 properties. Why is a lollipop lady needed to help children cross it?

The simple answer is – because of the large number of cars being driven in and out it, at school time, by parents using it as a car park to drop their children off. The two cars in the photograph above – one entering Arunside, one leaving – are, of course, parents on the school run.

So a problem is evidently being created by the amount of cars being driven into and out of Arunside, during the school run. But the solution isn’t to ban parking here, or to redesign the junction so that the children walking across this side street have priority.

How children negotiate side roads on the school run, in a civilised country

How children negotiate side roads on the school run, in a civilised country

No, the solution is to get a volunteer to stand here in a hi-viz jacket, twice a day, in an attempt to alleviate a problem that shouldn’t even exist in the first place.

That’s how we do things in Britain!

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13 Responses to How Britain solves a school run problem

  1. This is a tricky one – in the absence of measures to improve the cycling and walking grid in the town, any measures specifically directed at this cul-de-sac are going to be quite piecemeal. For example, most drivers would think it’d be safer to drop off/pick up there than on the main road, and parking restrictions there are just going to shift the problem elsewhere.

    The big change that’s needed is to improve cycling, walking and public transport routes which will in turn reduce the number of children being driven to school, but in the meantime, what’s the best way to mitigate the impact of the parents who are driving? Pedestrian priority over the side road would be a good start, as would the schools encouraging measures like lift sharing. I think the school run is one example of a journey that people make by car because they don’t feel like they have a choice of any other way to do it, so while we’re working towards the big infrastructure changes to shift that journey, we also need to work on the smaller short-term shifts.

    • Jim says:

      I personally find it very easy to believe that the school run is one example of a journey that people make by car because they’re too lazy to walk for more than ten minutes absolute maximum …

  2. Mark says:

    Hi-viz is a cure for all ills in the UK.

  3. T.Foxglove says:

    Cost of volunteer = nil except for hi-viz & lollipop.
    Cost of engineering = massive, far too high in these straightened times. Plus poor drivers won’t know what to do & will mow down the carefree kiddies
    Cost of resident parking scheme = massive, far too high in these straightened times. Plus political fall out from residents having to pay to park outside their homes & from parents with no alternative to drive & now nowhere to park.

    Also if you enabled modal shift here by building a direct route to school for pedestrians & cyclists and restricting car parking, then every school would want the same.

    Crazy.

  4. Jitensha Oni says:

    This seems rather selfish and self-defeating behaviour even by British standards. Banning or discouraging parking in the vicinity of schools is working already outside Horsham. Tell the school’s PTA/councillors. It has worked in the following location, basically because there is little choice, since this is a main route into Kingston-u-Thames:

    https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.4154543,-0.26664,3a,73.1y,159.64h,85.83t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sE4PHesbFJEP3rGb_klSxXw!2e0

    but it also has been made to work on an informal basis at the request of at least two schools near me – even the most car-dependent parents do see the sense, and most try to comply. This has been in operation for a couple of years now and fewer and fewer parents are parking close to the school. Peer pressure I expect. The restrictions dilute the concentration of cars from the 50m stretch of road they were being funnelled into, they get a bit of exercise, and shock horror, families are chatting to each other on the way!

    Which brings me to the second option: priority for active travel at junctions (or crossings). Well, yes. Unfortunately the recent case of priority being denied in Yarm (as reported in road.cc) shows what those who want improved conditions for active travel are up against in trying to (re-)establish priority. The Yarm proposal was, according to a councillor, unsafe because the novelty would apparently be “‘confusing’ for drivers”. Oh dear. For me, though, the lollipop lady in Horsham is enforcing priority, where drivers have got into the habit of taking liberties, if only for twice a day. So to co-opt Liz Almond’s excellent comment, once a walking and cycling grid is beginning to be established, let’s have more lollipop people guarding the active school run!

    Of course, I fully agree that it shouldn’t be like that.

    On a more encouraging note, the cycle parking at one of the junior schools I cycle past regularly was packed with scooters and bikes today🙂

  5. lorenzo3249 says:

    It’s all very depressing. Blackbridge Lane where these two schools are is one of the many roads in Horsham that could be closed (physically) to through motor vehicles. Off the top of my head others include New Street, Rushams Road, Merryfield Drive and Hills Farm Lane. I can’t think of a single road in the town that has been closed on environmental/ traffic grounds. I’d imagine that in a similar sized area of Kingston (for example) there would be more, but perhaps not many. I’m sure we can all think of towns that are better at this. What are the likes of Horsham afraid of? Is it that shoppers won’t come if they can’t take the shortest/quickest conceivable route to a town centre car park? Surely some of the most vibrant town centres are those that also discourage unnecessary traffic.

    One of my sons attends St Johns, we cycle to the school (a few others do too), but not along Blackbridge Lane. We live less than 800m from the school, and every day we see one of my neighbours on the way to school in his car. How could the likes of him, and others living further from schools, be discouraged from driving/ encouraged to walk/ cycle?

    I’d imagine that a comprehensive town wide network of segregated routes would need to be in place before significant numbers would try cycling. Do Dutch towns use parking restraint as the stick to the infra carrot, or is there just no need as cycling is just so often the most attractive choice?

    • Lorenzo, you are exactly right. The current view in HDC and WSCC really is that motorists need fast, direct access to the town centre car parks. They want people to park their cars and shop in a bike-free pedestrianised area. The idea that more cycling will benefit local shops, restaurants and businesses, is just not on the radar.
      Albion Way dual carriageway is a fearsome barrier to most potential cyclists and alternative cycle routes just don’t link up.
      The local cycling forum is challenging this. We are pleased that there will now be two short sections of cycle contraflow in the Carfax, but so much more is needed. For example the Shelley Fountain area is currently up for refurbishment but, despite the fact that there are no clear ideas about what to do with this huge open space, there is no plan to include the cycle paths that could, so easily, give us joined- up north-south and east-west cycle routes. The councillor with special responsibility for the town centre is: Helena.Croft@horsham.gov.uk

  6. lorenzo3249 says:

    Excuse the double post, but I just remembered a consultation a couple of years ago about an additional bridge over the river Arun for pedestrians and cyclists in this area. IIRC the purpose of the proposal was chiefly to improve access to these two schools by those on foot or bicycles. I never heard any more about the scheme after the initial consultation, did anyone else?

    • There IS a new bridge now; it had to be built to allow the construction work to take place. It’s actually lovely and, unlike the old one, it shouldn’t flood: https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Horsham,+West+Sussex/@51.0625831,-0.351572,3a,75y,296.58h,106.35t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1s1GhpGA_WJ0b5rmSBwINmvg!2e0!4m2!3m1!1s0x4875930bdbd6edbf:0xd07b2d1bec20416b
      After construction is finished, it is planned that the bridge will be for bus/cycle/foot only and a government-funded cycle route will go to town via Hills Farm Lane, through Tanbridge Park and behind Sainsbury’s. Unfortunately, this will be a slow and meandering route with rather low quality shared-use paths. You can also see from the Streetview that, although the bridge is an access road to a low speed residential area someone has seen fit to mark the narrow pavement up as a shared-use cycle path! As far as the cycling infrastructure is concerned, both ambition and implementation fall short and I don’t anticipate that it will tempt people out of their cars.

      • lorenzo3249 says:

        childbacktandem Interesting, I didn’t know that bridge was due to become buses/cycles only. I’m assuming this is after the new grade separated junction on the A24 opens, and vehicle access to the development will then be provided from the A24. This will certainly require enforcement at the river bridge by physical means such as a barrier, or rising bollards, otherwise rat running will be inevitable.

        This however wasn’t the bridge I was thinking of. I’ve now managed to find a very fleeting reference to it in this document:-

        www2.westsussex.gov.uk/ds/mis/181213nh12b.pdf

        The reference (page 6) mentions a potential foot/cycle bridge linking Arunside and Ridgehurst Drive in the context of Safer Routes to Schools.

        Others, please excuse the seemingly parochial nature of this comment, but i feel that it is only schemes similar to this that redress the balance between the current attractiveness of driving or active travel will have any effect on a national level.

        I’d agree the meandering cycle route you mention is going to tempt few (if any) out of cars.

        • Lorenzo. This is the first I’ve heard of any moves to get the missing bridge built –it is clear that Arunside, Tanbridge and St John’s all support it. As you probably know, together with some rather hidden pedestrian short-cuts, it could link the three schools and avoid Hills Farm Lane. A longer, but faster alternative would be a segregated track alongside the spacious Hills Farm Lane. What we have ended up with is a ‘cycle route’ that goes the longer way round on the busier road without anything to protect our young cyclists.

          In theory, the bridge can still happen as it stays on the list. Unfortunately only about two items can be actioned each year –and only if they can be delivered ‘without detriment to the agreed priorities in the Infrastructure Plan’. I understand that the list has now grown much longer.

  7. Cyclestrian says:

    The page linked above is very interesting: http://thebikeshow.net/school-level-data-cycling-to-school/ I tried to comment there, it didn’t work so I’m posting here.

    In my local area on the maps on that page, there is an obvious correlation between cycling numbers and local infrastructure. The schools with highest score have useful segregated paths.

    Perhaps not surprising.

  8. Joe says:

    People will still be discussing this for decades to come because the solution is so blindingly obvious but depressingly unachievable.
    There is only one political party committed to the transport revolution that puts cycling, walking and public transport before motorists, but for that to become reality you have to vote for them.
    I suspect that most people are happier having a moan than putting their money where their mouth is, especially when in the lead up to May 2015 the three main parties will trot out the usual hollow sweetners and the gullible will believe them, again.

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