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Active Travel in Galway City Council: Ireland’s First City Centre School Street

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4/05/2021 School Streets Colaiste Iognaid Photo:Andrew Downes, Xposure.

Responsible for the island of Ireland’s sixth most populated city, Galway City Council is a local authority in the West of Ireland responsible for a population of 80,000 and a budget of €103,577,762.

In 2020, Galway City Council launched a pilot School Streets programme – the first city centre School Street in Ireland. A ‘School Street’ is a road outside a school with a temporary restriction on motorised traffic at school drop off and pick up times – creating a safer, calmer space for children, parents and residents to walk, scoot or cycle.

Launched in partnership with Scoil Iognáid, the National Transport Authority and An Taisce’s (National Heritage Body) Green-Schools programme, Scoil Iognáid is a mixed, primary, Gaelscoil (Irish speaking school), with almost 540 children from 349 families travelling to the school every day (2020). The school has approximately 250 children under seven arriving on site every day.

The project arose out of concerns of parents and school management about the interactions between children and cars in the front of the school environment – a narrow, residential street in an older part of Galway City. The National Transport Authority identifies the front of school as the place where children congregate in the greatest numbers and where they are most vulnerable to indiscriminate parking practices, hazardous crossing conditions and air quality issues from idling cars.

It was intended to launch the School Streets pilot in May 2020 – however Covid 19 impacts and restrictions delayed the formal scheme. The school encouraged parents to participate in a ‘voluntary’ School Street as children returned to school in September 2020, following months of school closures due to Covid restrictions earlier that year.

After the return of the school, consultation was undertaken with the wider school community, and a pilot School Street was introduced on the three streets leading into the Scoil Iognáid in November 2020.

The street was closed from Monday to Friday, from 08.15am to 09.15am, and from 13.15pm to 14.45pm, from Monday 30th November 2020. The mechanism used to pedestrianise the street was Section 45 – (1) to (3) of SI No. 182/1997 – Road Traffic (Traffic and Parking) regulation 1997. Access and bicycles were permitted.

Infrastructural measures included the development of a ‘School Zone’ at the front of school, and provision of cycle and scooter parking. A pedestrian crossing was provided on a nearby street, to facilitate active travel by children and local residents.

The School Streets pilot was a challenging and daring initiative for the school, moving from a car-centric environment and school community, to one where all children were required to arrive on foot, by bike, or by scooter.

The project was inspired by School Streets projects around the world, including a pilot in Malahide County Dublin which began in late 2019. Initial results published by Fingal County Council showed a 43% shift from car travel to active modes – with positive feedback from parents, residents and the school.

Park and Stride

Both the school and Galway City Council understand that many children travel by car because they have no other alternative, whether it’s because of distance, lack of public transport, or travelling with siblings to different schools or crèche. While the school community was encouraged to walk, scoot, cycle and use public transport where they can, for those who need to drive to school, ‘Park and Stride’ was promoted as part of the School Streets pilot.

Park and Stride is where parents park a short distance away from the school, and finish the last leg of the journey on foot. As the school is in a busy city centre location, parents/ guardians were encouraged to park a couple of streets away. Galway City Council has a Park and Stride scheme, where parents and guardians can park for free in over 20 car parks in the city. Parents/ Guardians must register for the scheme, to receive a permit to park in these locations. See www.galwaycity.ie/parkandstride.

In the run up to the pilot launch, feedback from the school community indicated that parents were unhappy that they would have to use on-street Pay and Display parking, while dropping their children to school. To counteract that obstacle, Galway City Council extended the school Park and Stride scheme to include Pay and Display parking within 1km of the school, on a pilot basis. Parents and guardians registered for Park and Stride and were issued a pink Park and Stride permit to display in their windshield. All other terms and conditions applying to the Park and Stride scheme apply.

Outcomes

The pilot School Streets project was an iterative process, combining on-going communications, consultation and engagement; and infrastructure – delivering a `School Zone’ design – ultimately creating a safer, calmer, front of school environment. The pilot project has changed the travel culture and practices at Scoil Iognáid, producing positive outcomes and increasing active and sustainable travel on the school run.

Evaluation of the pilot programme found that daily car use has reduced by 14%, and more children are walking (+11%), scooting (+3%) and cycling (+7%) on a daily basis. Cycle parking was increased to 54 spaces, with 24 scooter parking spaces also provided. 85 children were recorded cycling to school on one count in June 2021.

Staff reported children arriving at school as more ready to learn, with an improved atmosphere and reduced stress at the school gate. Parents and the wider community report a better walking and cycling environment, improved access and community spirit.

The School Streets pilot at Scoil Iognáid created a space where children as young as four and five are scooting and cycling with their older classmates, as they arrive into school.

Galway City Council is now progressing ’Safe Routes to School’ and additional ‘School Zones’ measures as part of the national Safe Routes to School programme.

This project is funded by the National Transport Authority, and delivered with the support of the Green-Schools Travel programme, An Garda Siochána (Ireland’s national police force), and the wider school community.

Check out the Final Report, including more information on how the pilot was implemented, which is available at www.galwaycity.ie/schoolstreets

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