09 Sep New Project to Pilot School Streets in Three Ontario Communities
By Jiya Benni, Project Manager, 8 80 Cities
8 80 Cities and Green Communities Canada have partnered on a new project called the ‘Ontario School Streets Pilot’ to pilot School Streets programs in three Ontario communities – Hamilton, Markham and Mississauga – during the 2021-22 school year. Funded through Ontario Active School Travel, the aim of the project is to encourage active travel to school for students, caregivers, parents, teachers and the broader school community.
What is School Streets?
School Streets is “a program that creates a car-free environment in front of schools at the start and end of the school day to prioritize safe walking conditions for children, their caregivers and teachers”. It is one of the many programs that fall under the larger umbrella of Active School Travel (AST). Examples of other AST programs include Bike to School Week, International Walk to School Month, Winter Walk Day etc.
Why Active School Travel? Why School Streets?
There are many reasons why schools and cities should encourage Active School Travel such as improved health, air quality and environmental conditions. Currently, only 39% of Canadian children and youth get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Insufficient physical activity is linked to chronic diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, stroke as well as poor mental health. A study done by Rothman L, Howard A, Buliung R, et al (2016) on dangerous student car drop-off behaviours and child pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions observed dangerous driver behaviour at 88% of the participating schools. In addition to this, when families use their private vehicles for school drop-off, it increases air pollution around the school.
School Streets, by their very design, tackles all these problems and more. By limiting the traffic on the street in front of schools and prioritizing that space for people walking, cycling and rolling to school, School Streets reduces traffic congestion, improves air quality, encourages a healthier lifestyle and creates a safer environment for students, caregivers, teachers and the broader school community. They also facilitate independent mobility and provide opportunities for community connections and social bonding. School Streets are increasingly being adopted in other parts of the world like the United Kingdom and France. In Canada, schools in Toronto, Winnipeg, Victoria, Vancouver, Kingston and Montreal have piloted or are now piloting School Streets.
Ontario School Streets Pilot
For Ontario School Streets Pilot, the goal is to implement School Streets in three Ontario communities – Hamilton, Markham and Mississauga – during the 2021-22 school year. 8 80 Cities is currently providing technical assistance to the three City teams which include doing scoping workshops with the three teams, connecting them to other School Streets projects in Canada and assisting them on an as-needed basis. Through different activities at the scoping workshops, 8 80 Cities helped the different teams detail out their vision, objectives and communication and engagement strategy. As part of this project, 8 80 Cities will also develop recommendations for implementing School Streets programs in Ontario settings.
The three cities are currently in the planning stage which includes selecting the schools, meeting with their representatives, engaging with the community, recruiting and training volunteers, supporting communications and amplifying success stories. The three cities will start implementing their School Street pilots in Spring 2022. Through the course of the year, the teams will get together to learn from each other and share their wins and challenges.
With a few cities in Canada having piloted School Streets in the last couple of years and a few piloting School Streets this year, it is safe to say that it’s an exciting time for Active School Travel in the country. We are excited for the three communities – Hamilton, Markham and Mississauga and are looking forward to continuing to support them as they plan and implement their School Street pilots.
This project is made possible through financial support from Green Communities Canada and the Government of Ontario.