Why Charlton’s schools need a car-free day every day

Parking outside the new Our Lady of Grace school
February 2017: Parents’ parking causing problems outside Our Lady of Grace school

Last month, schools in Charlton and across the borough of Greenwich took part in the STARS Car-Free Day, which saw roads closed outside schools. It’s an attempt to highlight the problems caused by parents driving their children to school – and to persuade them that leaving the car at home makes life easier for everyone. Local father Nathan Hughes says this should be more than a one-off token gesture.

“My lungs feel better already,” was my note to Ben Murphy, traffic officer for Greenwich Council. I said the same to local councillors, who were on show, along with our supportive local MP as he passed by.

Of course, you need the reason why. Whilst checking my son’s school bag one evening I found a short note titled ‘STARS project’, which informed my wife and I that Friday was a walking to school day and that the roads surrounding his particular primary school and a number of others in the borough were to be closed for a period of time throughout the day and afternoon.

We set off for school as normal that morning and found an obvious reduction in both traffic and the sometimes overlooked noise.

There were children playing games in the roads which the schools had organised (cycling, rowing machines, hopscotch, and more) and a noticeable excitement in the body language of the children. The headteachers thanked us for walking – a statement which really made me laugh.

As many parents know, the catchment areas of schools these days – and probably always have been – can be summed up as “if you you don’t live within walking distance to the school, you won’t get in”.

With this being the case, why is that so many parents or carers decide to continually drive their young to school on a daily basis?

I would suggest the investment in our public transport these days has become exceptional. It is frequent and reliable – although many would choose to dispute that – and the added benefit of tracking it through smartphone apps mean we are constantly updated.

I put the driving to school down to laziness rather than a necessity.

Possible reasons why:

  • Moving further out as soon as the child has been allocated a school place, taking advantage of maximised property prices
  • “I need to make other drop-offs”
  • “I won’t get to work on time”

On the first point, this means some families are denying children living in close proximity to their closest school a place, thus making them travel further afield and having a detrimental impact on the immediate community. This just isn’t right.

Our borough’s primary education system has an abundance of excellent, enthusiastic, passionate teachers that have turned our schools into arguably some of the best in the country, making the options ever more attractive.

Positive impact and suggestions/ideas:

  • Local retired residents might like to get involved by supporting/marshalling the school roads
  • Local businesses. There’s an opportunity here to grow our community, as some of the local shops might find a way to promote their businesses through pop-up shops before and after school.

We all like to think we have an interest in the environment. But we choose to ignore the easiest thing to do and one that would make a huge difference. School run traffic has been chaotic and at times unsustainable for local residents, some of whom adjust their schedules around the inconvenience of the double parking.

Let’s start making a real difference to those little lungs. It could also help the older ones too. School by school, class by class, year by year, we could make a positive change – just like the one our teachers have made to an increasingly popular borough.

It shouldn’t just be be a one-off poster to stick to the school gates, it needs to be embraced and properly implemented.

What do you think? Could you help make car-free days a regular occurrence? Leave a comment below.

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