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Blog Post 10 September 2021

Why walking to school is the path to net zero

Guest blog by Living Streets

A generation ago, 70% of us walked to school. Now it’s less than half. That’s despite most people living within two miles of their closest primary school. As a result, one in four cars on the road during the morning peak are families on the school run, contributing to half a million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually – that’s more than the carbon footprint of some small countries.

At Living Streets, we know that switching our short car journeys to cleaner modes of transport is vital to achieve net zero. We’re working to help as many families as possible swap the school run for a school walk.

Why walking to school is important

Switching our short car journeys to walking, wheeling or cycling can have a huge impact on local air pollution. For families, the journey to school is an easy place to start.

Reducing the number of cars outside school gates is vital if we’re to protect children’s health. Motor vehicles are the biggest source of air pollution, harming children’s lungs and increasing the risk of asthma. Currently, over 2,000 primary schools in the UK are situated in pollution hotspots. Air pollution is bad for everyone but it’s particularly harmful for children who absorb and retain pollutants in their body for longer.

As well as reducing congestion and pollution, walking to school is an easy way to build more exercise into our daily lives. It’s also been shown that children who walk to school arrive feeling more refreshed, alert, and ready to learn.

We know that walking to school is one of the best ways to start the day. But getting to school on foot isn’t always as easy as it should be. Whether you’re exploring how walking to school can work for your family or want to campaign for better streets in your area, our Family Walk to School Kit is here to help.

Safer streets

As well as running behaviour change schemes like WOW, we also work with schools and local authorities to make school streets safer. We regularly talk to parents and children as part of our school route audits, using their insights to advise local traffic planners on how to make streets better for walking.

Parents tells us they are put off walking because of unsafe speeds, idling vehicles and cars parked on pavements. By making school streets car-free, we remove those barriers. And our research shows that most people back these changes, with nearly two thirds of people supporting car-free zones outside schools.

School Streets’ are a fantastic way to tackle the triple whammy of congestion, pollution, and safety concerns. By closing the road to cars during peak times, families can walk, cycle or scoot to school. This makes for a quiet and stress-free drop-off.

School Streets are being rolled out across the country, including in Cardiff where one headteacher, Mrs Gough told us: “We were having issues at drop off and pick-up times with parents driving dangerously on the street. It wasn’t very safe for the children walking to school. The School Street has meant there’s been a significant reduction in the cars driving down Carter Place. It’s a lot safer for all our children walking down the road and feedback from our residents has been really positive.”

A study by the Mayor of London found that School Streets reduce air pollution by 23% and one in five parents drive less when they’re in place.

As the new academic year begins, we hope you will be encouraged to swap the school ride for a school stride. To find out more about our walk to school campaign, visit our website: 

Last updated: 6 September 2021