The scenes outside West Jesmond Primary School at either end of the school day on Tuesday could not have given a clearer indication of the need for a School Street to be implemented on Tankerville Terrace without delay.
Queuing children and their parents hemmed in by pedestrian guardrail to less than two metres of pavement, social distancing physically impossible, and all the while breathing filthy air from backed-up and idling vehicles. Cars parked on double yellow lines and/or two-wheels-up on the pavement – in one case directly next to a sign put out by the school urging drivers to respect students’ safety. Parents and students on foot reporting a sense of vulnerability and unease they had not felt for some time.
No space for social distancing here
It was entirely foreseeable that this would happen with public transport use being discouraged and social distancing requirements in place, and therefore wholly preventable.
A School Street is a simple restriction of street space outside schools to pedestrians and cyclists at the start and end of the school day. The debate about a school street outside WJPS has rumbled on for ages, since well before the pandemic, and decision-makers seem paralysed by fear of angering drivers and a consequent desire for a perfect traffic management scheme that upsets no-one and as such doesn’t exist.
We know that most of the drivers who would be affected by a school street are parents or carers themselves, with children at WJPS, Percy Hedley (which has its own circulation space for vehicles) or one of the private schools further down Tankerville Terrace. We have come across very few who would regard having to park a little further away from school as an unacceptable price to pay for ample space, clean air and a feeling of safety outside school.
This isn’t something that needs a complicated or permanent technical solution. It can be physically implemented with a few bollards or wheeled planters. It can be tried out to see if it works. It is entirely within the ambit of the active travel measures the government is urging on councils and which Newcastle City Council has already deployed with great fanfare – and very welcome success – in the city centre and elsewhere. SPACE for Jesmond and others have offered to help the Council implement a scheme on the ground.
With scenes like yesterday’s, shared widely by frustrated parents on social media, it is no longer disappointing but merely baffling that basic School Street measures aren’t being implemented outside West Jesmond Primary – and other schools around the city – as a matter of urgency. It begs the question what further evidence could possibly be brought to bear to persuade decision-makers of the necessity of urgent action to protect children and parents around schools from Covid or worse.
This article is an open letter to Arlene Ainsley, Newcastle Council cabinet member for Transport and Air Quality, Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle City Council and also the six councillors who represent North Jesmond and South Jesmond.