23 Jun School Streets Taking Off Across The GTHA
By Laura Smith, 8 80 Cities Summer Intern
This past spring, four School Streets were piloted across the Greater Toronto Area with support from 8 80 Cities and Green Communities Canada, in a project called ‘Ontario School Streets Pilot’. The project is funded through Ontario Active School Travel, with the goal of encouraging active school travel for students, parents, and the broader school community.
What is School Streets?
School Streets involve the temporary closure of the street(s) adjacent to a school at the start and end of the school day to prioritize safe walking conditions for children, their caregivers and teachers. Various School Street pilots across Europe and North America have discovered that the program offers a multitude of benefits; including improved air quality, reduced traffic congestion, improved social cohesion, created opportunities for independent mobility, and improved safety. School Streets are continuing to gain popularity across Canadian cities and have been piloted in Toronto, ON, Winnipeg, MB, Vancouver, BC, Victoria, BC, Montreal, QC, Kingston, ON and most recently, Markham, Hamilton and Mississauga.
The School Streets pilot in Markham was the first GTA site to launch on Wednesday, May 4th. The School Streets program ran on Stricker Avenue out front of John McCrae Public School. After the launch, the School Streets continued to run for an hour every Wednesday morning and afternoon through the month of May. The pilot was organized and implemented by York Region District School Board in partnership with the City of Markham.
The School Streets’ official launch started off with an exciting kick-off event where the school community was joined by mayor Frank Scarpitti, Deputy Mayor Don Hamilton and city councillors; Amanda Collucci, Reid McAlpine, and Isa Lee. The team also provided tons of free swag for students!
“I am very proud that the City of Markham is the first in York Region to test this safety program that promotes active lifestyles and creates safer streets for our students. I am extremely grateful to the parent volunteers who dedicated their time to make programs like these possible.”- Mayor Frank Scarpitti
York Region District School Board Chair, Allan Tam, was also present at the launch and expressed his support for the pilot.
“We are grateful to have this opportunity to work in partnership with the City of Markham and the Region of York to create safer streets and encourage our students and families to adopt healthy and active lifestyles.”- Allan Tam
Stricker Avenue was closed using a combination of lightweight barricades and ‘road closed’ signs. A York Region Police vehicle blocked one end of Stricker to ensure that exempt vehicles could only enter from one end of the School Street.
The team also lined the street with orange pylons to create distinct lanes for any vehicles moving through the space to ensure vehicles remain separate from children travelling in the lane adjacent to the school.
Very few vehicles were spotted dropping off students outside of the barricade, and many parents and residents expressed their happiness seeing the regularly congested road empty and safer for people walking and cycling.
Any residents needing to exit or enter the street using their car were still permitted to do so, however, they were required to drive at a walking pace while being escorted by one of the enthusiastic School Street volunteers.
The School Streets in Mississauga was next to launch, with two School Streets pilots occurring in the months of May and June. The first to launch was the School Streets program at Hillside Public School, starting on May 9th and operating on Kelly Road. The School Streets closure lasted for 35 minutes in the morning and 50 minutes in the afternoon, to allow for afterschool activities to promote outdoor physical activity.
The closure area includes almost 400 metres of Kelly Road leaving plenty of space for play and active travel. The road was closed using lightweight plastic barricades and road closed signs.
Volunteers were stationed at the barricades and escorted the few vehicles needing to enter the space. The only vehicles permitted entry to the School Streets area were school staff, residents of the closure zone, emergency vehicles and the two special education school buses. The other school bus which drops off a large cohort of students moved their drop-off zone outside of the School Streets closure, which meant that even children being bussed to school were still engaging in active travel for a part of their journey to and from school.
The closed street saw many students and parents walking and cycling to school using the car-free road!
The city of Mississauga’s second School Street launched on May 16th on Havenwood Drive, creating a car-free environment in front of St Alfred Separate School and Brian W Fleming Public School. The School Street ran for over an hour in the afternoons, offering activities and snacks for students. When the dismissal bells rang at the two schools the street was instantly flooded with students.
On Wednesday, May 25th, the School Street on Havenwood Drive had special guests Mayor Bonnie Crombie and city councillor Chris Fonseca joined in on the fun!
“Traffic in our school zones does not need to be the norm – the School Streets program has proven there is a safer, greener way. Biking, walking or rolling to school helps you stay healthy, creates safer streets and is good for the environment. I want to thank the staff, students and parents at Hillside Public School, St. Alfred Separate School and Brian W. Fleming Public School for their participation, as well as local community members for their support of this innovative new program.” – Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie
St Alfred Separate School students performed a special road safety song to celebrate School Streets and then went straight into the closed street to play!
The project team coordinated exciting programming on School Streets to promote outdoor physical activity and create excitement in the community. Students enjoyed programming on various weekly themes from road safety to health and wellness and the environment. Older students were eager to help out and encourage students to be creative in the street and build their confidence using active modes of travel. Other volunteers were quick to respond to any vehicles needing entry to the closure and created a safe and exciting environment outside the two schools.
The School Streets pilots are a part of the City of Mississauga’s larger Vision Zero Action Plan, which aims to reduce injuries and fatalities from motor vehicle collisions.
“As an approved action within our Vision Zero Action Plan, the School Streets Pilot Project is contributing to the work we are doing here in Mississauga to make our roads safer for students and their families. School Streets is one more tool in our toolbox that we can use to help address safety concerns in our school zones. In addition to the School Streets Pilot Project, we’ve also lowered speed limits and have Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE) cameras in different school zones. Our crossing guards continue to help students cross the road safely and our School Walking Routes program promotes active travel and alerts drivers to watch for children.”- Geoff Wright, Commissioner, Transportation and Works
Both Mississauga pilots successfully ran for three weeks, thanks to the hard work from city staff and a dedicated group of volunteers!
The Hamilton School Streets launched Tuesday, June 14th at Strathcona Elementary School, operating every subsequent Tuesday morning in the month of June. Part of Lamoreaux Street was closed to vehicles for half an hour, from 8:30 am- 9:00 am, to allow children to travel to school in a safer and calmer environment. Closure materials included pylons and street closure vehicles parked to block any vehicle entry into the space.
The school community was extremely excited to see the project move forward and have taken the opportunity to celebrate School Streets by bringing their own balls and skipping ropes to use in the street. Programming is also being offered in the street to encourage outdoor physical activity and active travel. This included Storytime Trail, an outdoor book walk that encouraged outdoor learning and physical distancing. Other educational initiatives like Green Ventures were also on-site to educate students about environmentalism.
The School Streets program in Hamilton is part of a multitude of programs being run by the city in an attempt to improve children’s safety and increase children’s engagement in active school travel.
The School Streets pilots ran successfully in Markham, Mississauga and Hamilton thanks to the hard work of the city, school board partners and volunteers. Based on the success and the community satisfaction of the pilots, 8 80 Cities and Green Communities Canada hope to support the development of future School Streets across Ontario. Together, 8 80 Cities and GCC will release more detailed reports this September summarizing the GTA pilots’ results based on data collected on-site. We hope to continue connecting with implementers of School Street pilots across Canada, including Kingston, ON, Victoria, BC, Vancouver, BC and Montreal, QC to exchange best practices and build a network of people working together to create safer school zones.
For updates about the Ontario School Streets Pilot project and to find out more about School Streets and its benefits, check out our webpage. and follow us at @8 80 Cities, @GCCCanada and @OntarioAST.