BREATHING SPACE: School Street pilot project allows students more room to walk, bike, play
A collaboration between the City of Winnipeg and the Green Action Centre, a non-profit promoting greener living, is getting a lot of positive feedback stemming from a pilot program aimed at giving students a little more room to breathe outside of one Winnipeg school.
The School Street Project, which has become commonplace throughout the United Kingdom, is being piloted at Issac Brock School in Winnipeg’s West End neighbourhood. The initiative sees street closures in front of schools to vehicles, allowing students more space to walk, bike, play and physical distance.
The result? Cleaner air, less noise, calmer streets and less traffic.
“These projects have started to be adopted across North America and other parts of the world because they are so beneficial, particularly for young students,” said Denae Penner, Sustainable Transportation Program Coordinator at Green Action Centre. “It’s really important that students have the ability to walk a little bit and the start and end of each day, and the majority of traffic you see around schools in the morning — and the majority of rush-hour traffic in general — is people driving their kids to school.”
Since students returned to the classroom on Sept. 8, Barratt Avenue, which runs adjacent to the front doors of Isaac Brock, has been closed to allow for students to better move around what’s normally a busy area during school hours.
It’s part of a 60-day pilot project in partnership with the city, including backing from Coun. Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre) and school trustee Jennifer Chen.
The hope, according to the GAC, is School Streets will support families in choosing to walk or bike to school, reduce traffic congestion in the area, and alleviate some of the stresses on school buses, while creating safer streets for children to play around.
“The Isaac Brock Parent Council has always been concerned with making sure the students and community members have safe ways to get to school,” said Elizabeth Jackimec, president of the Isaac Brock Parent Council. “We also encourage active transportation, so this initiative is great.”
The Safer Streets program has been highlighted further since the beginning of the school year as a strike by Winnipeg School Division bus drivers, which Isaac Brock falls under, has meant more parents having to drive their kids to and from school.
“Anecdotally, and what some of the school administrators have said, is the streets feel much calmer,” Penner said.
How that changes when the strike ends is unknown, but so far, feedback has been great.
“Response from residents I have interacted with so far has been really positive, and already, without any nudging or any kind of push from us, the families who are waiting to get their kids from school are spreading out on the street to give their kids more space to ensure physical distancing is being met,” Penner said.
It’s too early to say whether or not the Safe Schools program will be implemented at other schools at this point, Penner said.
“But I do know that the traffic engineers at the City of Winnipeg, who have been supporting us, are looking into more innovative approaches to address road safety concerns around schools,” she said.