Healthy School streets – first thoughts

As I write this, it’s nearly 1pm on the 11th November, the day of the launch of our first Healthy school streets timed road closure. I have just been happily bombarding facebook and twitter with masses of comments and photos, so I won’t do that here right now, but I did want to quickly hop on the blog to make a few points.

The first and the biggest point is an enormous THANK YOU to everyone who made this happen in Forest Gate. The head teachers of Woodgrange and Godwin schools have been tremendously supportive. Rokhsana our Mayor, and cabinet members including James Asser, Julianne Marriott, Jane Lofthouse, and others, have all not only been advocates of healthy school streets, but had the leadership and political courage to see it through. Officers have worked really hard to get everything in place, the Woodgrange PTA supported our launch today by selling croissants, juice and breakfast, Newham Cyclists have been cheerleaders since the idea was first suggested. Massive thanks also to the band of local, and not-so-local residents, cyclists, campaigners, Labour party members and friends who turned out this morning in high vis jackets to help physically keep the roads clear. A special mention to Frances Clarke, a Forest Gate resident who used to be an East Ham councillor, who first tapped me on the shoulder I think around 2 years ago, and suggested that Godwin would be a great school for a road closure, and what did I think?

So I am suffused with a warm glow of success and righteousness: children walked down the centre of the road this morning, drivers were broadly well-behaved (with two notable exceptions. But we have your numberplates, guys….) and everyone was happy and celebratory.

I don’t want to sound negative but I think I do need to strike a slight note of caution as we go forward into the next few weeks. There are a few things that we could have done better, and we will learn from these. The leaflets and banners should have got to the schools earlier. The signs should have gone up a long time before they actually did. We are legally compliant in terms of our communication but we (and perhaps this is always the case, honestly) could have done more.

Currently there is no physical barrier to the road closures, which is partly why I recruited volunteers this morning for the launch. Cameras to start enforcing are going in this week, so my measured prediction is that for the next few weeks, the roads may be a bit quieter, but that a lot of vehicles will ignore the signs, and continue to use the roads, until they start to get ticketed. So I think all of us will have to take care, firstly not to be too triumphant, but also physically to take care on those roads where children and parents may be expecting it to be entirely safe, but we’re not quite there yet.

But in summary, I think it’s fair to say that our first Newham (ok, jointly first with Chobham) school street was a success, greeted with pleasure and enjoyment by pedestrians and cyclists (and one brave soul on roller blades who zoomed up the road at top speed). I sincerely hope that there will be many more, and if anyone from other schools / other areas is keen to have one near them, then I would recommend you drop your local councillors a line and speak to the head teacher.

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