Tackling the school run: research study
A research study to provide the latest evidence on school transport choices.
Chapter 6 - Infrastructure and Planning
This chapter considers the research findings in terms of the infrastructure and planning based themes emerging from discussions.
Infrastructure within the school grounds concerns both the provision of access arrangements as well as on-site storage facilities. The majority of the schools had bike and scooter parking which was seen as key in supporting and encouraging pupils to cycle to school. Bike/scooter parking varied in terms of provision from uncovered Sheffield stands to covered/padlocked bike storage areas. Examples of the different type of parking at the case study schools visited are shown in Figure 6.1.
Figure 6.1: Examples of School Bike/Scooter Parking
At one school where no cycle parking was available, both school staff and pupils expected that a secure bike shed would most likely encourage uptake of cycling to/from the school. The provision of cycle parking more generally was also raised by one of the local authorities whereby parents accompanying children on their bike to other schools had made contact asking for somewhere to store their child's bike.
One of the case study schools had moved to a new site in 2012. The design and layout of the new school took into account provision for good access and school transport to be able to drop-off and pick-up pupils such that they can safely walk to the school without crossing vehicle routes. Specific aspects addressed in the design and layout of the new school included:
- Better separation of pedestrians and vehicles with improved pupil entrances to the school grounds;
- A separate dedicated off-road school transport/taxi set down and pick up area;
- Shared access paths 3m wide for pedestrian and cycle use;
- More controlled and safer pupil drop-off arrangements to prevent the congestion in the upper car park;
- Secure covered cycle storage conveniently placed near to the school and accessible from different directions of approach; and
- Larger student lockers to accommodate outdoor clothing.
In general, the overall design of the new school, and the improved provision of off-road routes to the school were considered to be a success. Although parking issues persisted which are discussed in the following section.
"It encourages you to not go by car because now you've got better facilities, so now you don't really need to take the car anymore." (Secondary Pupil).
Parking pressures and associated safety concerns at drop-off/pick-up times were highlighted as a key issue by all schools and local authorities. This suggests these issues are pertinent, all be it to a potentially different extent, across different geographies and school settings.
"Our big issue is parking, so it is just looking for ways of getting the message [out] bringing it up at assemblies and newsletters to encourage considerate parking." (Local Authority Officer)
Examples given of how schools, in partnership with local authority teams, have specifically sought to address these challenges include:
- Designated drop-off/pick up areas - provision of dedicated drop-off/pick up areas within school grounds to manage access and reduce conflict between vehicles and pupils arriving on foot and by bike/scooter. At one school access was managed by a permit system with parents dropping off nursery to P3 or pupils with mobility problems permitted access;
- Child Friendly Driver Charter - to combat inconsiderate parking by parents, with a disc based system for display in the windscreen committing the parent to not park on zigzags, double park in front of the school and not lift children over the barriers outside the school;
- School Streets - managed access on streets accessing and in proximity to the school to reduce congestion at the school gate and encourage park and stride. Local access is retained for residents and businesses through a permit based system administered by the local authority; and
- Decriminalisation of parking - Enforcement Officers issuing tickets for parking on zigzag lines outside schools.
Some examples to manage parking around the school environ are shown in Figure 6.2.
Figure 6.2: Examples of School Parking Management
Effective management of parking issues was an ongoing concern and challenge for schools, including where recent dedicated parking facilities as well as a car based drop-off point had been provided as part of the new school referred to above. At this school, both pupils and school staff noted that parents often wait in the car park blocking in others who are actually parked in allocated spaces, and that the space available for the drop-off point is not sufficient for the volume of cars that use it, which often results in congestion on the main road outside the school.
"Because people let their kids out at the entrance [to the drop-off point], they don't actually go into it, so this causes a big traffic jam on the main road." (Secondary Pupil).
"After school it can be quite busy with all the cars coming. The drop-off area, it can take a few cars, but I think some people park in the car park." (Secondary Pupil).
"Sometimes when it's a really wet day, outside the front of the school there's a lot of cars and there's not much room to turn in, so there's a lot of hassle crossing the road." (Secondary Pupil).
"Sometimes it delays the school bus, it stops it from being able to get out, and we have to wait for all the cars to get in before the school bus can actually go." (Secondary Pupil).
Similar inappropriate parking behaviour by parents were also highlighted as particularly problematic at other case study schools. One case study school indicated that infrastructure changes had not been implemented around the school due to the low volume of traffic using the road, and so the school had implemented a park and stride scheme via the support of a nearby local restaurant who allowed parents to use their car park, coupled with a number of awareness raising campaigns with parents. Another school, which did have a small car park and turning circle and drop-off point available at the front of the school, tried to raise awareness among parents via newsletters and signs designed by the pupils displayed at the front of the school as shown in Figure 6.3.
Figure 6.3: School Parking Signs
Another school, which suffered from particularly acute parking issues was located within a shared campus, co-located with community facilities including a library and leisure centre, and also a SEN school. At the front of the building there is a large car park, which was initially intended for use by the leisure centre users, however, it is also utilised by parents for the school drop-off/pick-up but they were regularly parking inappropriately. The school is also located adjacent to two supermarkets with sizeable car parks, meaning that driving to the school is easily facilitated. There is also a large turning circle at the school entrance which was intended for taxis and specialist transport for pupils at the SEN school, however, parents from the case study school were using this for parking and as a drop-off point for their children and creating significant difficulties for the pupils attending the SEN school to be dropped-off and picked-up. Parents also regularly blocked the access road to the school by parking inappropriately, as well as blocking access for supermarket deliveries and a scheduled bus route.
"The problems at [name of school] is, because it's a shared campus, there is quite a substantial car park, which was built for the leisure centre and the library, it wasn't intended to be for the school, but parents take advantage of it and chose to drive to school because the facility is there. So it's quite difficult to encourage people to travel sustainably when they've got such a generous car park to use." (Local Authority Staff).
This case study school had, however, been more successful in obtaining assistance from the local authority to implement infrastructure based changes. They had completed a School Travel Plan which identified the issues and any behaviour change programmes they could implement to tackle these, and also initiated close working with the local authority to identify and facilitate structural changes to the road and car park layout. Changes were still ongoing at the time of this research, however measures delivered to date included a revised layout in the leisure centre car park to facilitate the better movement of traffic and encourage better parking, and also the inclusion of a drop-off point within the car park. Although it was noted that the drop-off point was not always being used appropriately, with parents opting to park in these spaces rather than drop-off and move on. Parking restrictions had also been implemented on the access road which helped to reduce the problems here and had assisted in keeping the turning circle clear. The local authority was also working to impose a ban of traffic/parking on this access road, although this had proved a complex undertaking as exceptions to the ban are required for the transport accessing the SEN school, deliveries to the supermarket, and for the service bus.
School staff, the local authority and some pupils noted that the changes had brought improvements to the general safety at the front of the school. However, other pupils felt that more needed to be done to create safer routes to the school more generally.
"My mum lets me walk to school by myself a bit more often because she now trusts that there is less of a chance that I will get knocked over." (Primary Pupil)
"We've been here [school] nearly seven years and I think they have updated it and made it more safe." (Primary Pupil)
"They won't do anything to ensure we have safe route to school, so they are literally just telling us to just have a safe route, but there is no safe route to take." (Primary Pupil)
"They are nagging at us for like, there is people that are crossing the road, but there is not a green light or anything, but there is no green light [no pedestrian crossing]" (Primary Pupil)
"I think that they [school/local authority] could do maybe more…from my point of view they haven't really done anything, safe wise as well…maybe get a few more safer crossings." (Primary Pupil)
The early and active involvement from the local authority team in the development in the School Travel Plan was identified by both school and local authority staff as helping to drive forward these changes and ensure their success. The development of the School Travel Plan was also considered instrumental in progressing the required work.
"The Traffic Management team get quite involved with the travel planning process as they are responsible for assessing, designing and implementing any infrastructure changes within the public road." (Local Authority Staff)
"The travel plan process helped to identify all the key issues and prioritise interventions and improvements to best benefit the school. By completing a travel plan, this helped to justify funding for initiatives as it demonstrates that educational and other soft measures have also been implemented or explored." (Local Authority Staff)
At one of the case study schools the School Streets initiative is being piloted which involves access restrictions on surrounding streets at school drop-off/pick-up times. Schools that were keen to participate were identified by the local authority and an application process undertaken which included consideration of what was already happening in terms of tackling the school run. This in turn provided a platform on which to introduce the initiative alongside wider complementary initiatives. The impact of the Pilot has been evaluated and findings at a scheme wide level reported in Chapter 3. Other initial observations noted in the stakeholder consultation about the impact of the scheme include the importance of resources to enable effective enforcement. After initial enforcement presence every day in the first week at the entrances to the scheme, it was noted that enforcement is now primarily through occasional spot checks within the zone. The greater popularity of the scheme with residents rather than parents was noted also (this was also reflected in a comment made by a secondary pupil from another school who lived in a School Street area) with some instances of conflict observed between parents flouting the restriction and volunteers actively enforcing the restriction.
"If you have somebody there, it's fine. If you don't have somebody there, you have to rely on people's goodwill to respect the restrictions. Most of the time, it seems ok, but there are problems." (Stakeholder)
"Everyone thought it would be us that would be against it (School Streets), but it was the actual parents…we mainly wanted it because the school parents are always parking over our driveways and stuff." (Secondary Pupil)
As well as infrastructure, proactive messaging about considerate parking was delivered both to pupils at school assemblies and also a frequent topic in regular school newsletters sent out to parents. It was also noted by several schools that parking and safety were often topical items on the agendas for Parent Councils or equivalent. One local authority noted that they had established a Schools Working Group which provides a forum for different departments in the council (Property (Education); Transport (Education); Local Community Police and Traffic Police) to come together regularly and discuss issues reported by schools, parents or residents. The group often undertakes site visits and puts together a response to issues raised. The presence of on the ground enforcement was identified as a key requirement. Parent to parent enforcement was also identified to have a role and beneficial impact.
"Unfortunately, it's a case of when the enforcement officers are there or the police are there, the parents will park further away and walk…" (Local Authority Officer)
"A responsible parent will see the irresponsible parking, they are very quick to comment and make us (local authority) aware of it, the parents are quite strong up there." (Local Authority Officer)
Infrastructure Across the Wider Community
The importance of infrastructure across the wider school catchment area was also a common point observed across all respondent groups, particularly in terms of safer routes and the general location of some schools on or in proximity to busy streets. In one location this was identified by school staff to have been compounded by roadwork related diversions and associated increase in traffic volumes. This was one of the key factors identified by parents in terms of encouraging more pupils to travel actively to school. Concerns about safety, poor conditions of the road and the lack of perceived safe cycle routes to the school were directly attributed by one school of adopting a policy not to promote cycling to school.
Meanwhile, inappropriate parking issues described by parents at the start and end of the school day was a particular problem at schools, and impacted upon the levels of cycling (particularly at one primary school) despite the school's best efforts to promote this mode of travel. School staff also observed, and some pupils confirmed, that in some instances, practices to avoid the congestion at the school gate saw pupils being dropped off further away with busy roads and junctions to negotiate to access the school.
"Given the size and geography of [name of town], it should really be possible for all children to walk and cycle to the school, but at the present moment in time, it's not safe enough." (Primary School Staff)
Safety and external infrastructure was equally pertinent across both urban and more rural school settings of the case study schools. In one of the more rural school locations, for example, the availability of pavements and street lighting were highlighted as a concern by both staff and pupils, while in more urban settings, the volume of traffic and busy roads were a recurring concern raised by some school staff, local authority officers as well as parents and pupils. A study by Kirby and Inchley (2009), as reported in the GCPH (2012) study, identified safety as a barrier to active travel, although the study cited that the rural and semi-rural setting of the schools may have been a contributing factor. Discussions from this study would suggest that safety is an issue across different school settings, although with some nuance on the nature of particular issues depending on geography.
Safe pedestrian crossings, including 'lollipop' patrols, zebra crossings and those controlled by lights, were identified by school staff, parents and pupils as being vital to facilitate safe access and to give reassurance to parents. Funding constraints were noted by schools and local authorities to have placed pressure on fulfilling school requests for additional patrols, as well as lack of cover at lunchtimes in some locations. At some schools, staff monitored arrival/departure activity around the school gate where they could, although this was not always sustainable on an ongoing basis and so resulted in a more ad hoc approach. Some of the points raised are summarised in the quotes below -
"There are parts of where we stay where there are no pavements, and these are quite dangerous roads. Even if there were pavements these would be quite dangerous. And some of the parents, especially of the younger children, would highlight that they are not comfortable with their children walking on their own along these roads." (Secondary School Pupil)
"If more people were feeling safer, more kids would be cycling/walking to school." (Primary School Parent)
"I am not happy with you cycling to school as I don't trust cycle paths, they are too quiet in the morning and I don't like you cycling along the pavements and on busy roads." (Primary Parent Pupil)
One of the case study schools had been directly involved in a local community design initiative to develop ideas to improve not just walking and cycling, but also play and sociability. The I-Bike project at the school provided good groundwork to build on and the linkage with the school offered a direct link into the community. Designs were developed with direct input from the school and wider community resulting in changes to a number of streets, including the tightening of junction radii to reduce crossing distances, the addition of three controlled crossings where pupils had mapped a lack of facilities, and narrowing of a street popular with school run traffic through build-outs to improve the visibility for pupils. The main school gate was also re-designed to curve into the playground in order to allow more space on the pavement where a key road crossing was located (as shown in the above photo). Artwork was also introduced in the neighbourhood to make walking and cycling in the area more interesting and appealing.
Pre and post monitoring surveys found that after the project, vehicles were travelling more slowly and there was less peak-time traffic, along with improved perceptions of safety in terms of the speed and volume of traffic. Although the sample size for this study was small, these outcomes coincided with a 7.6% and a 3.5% increase in the number of children cycling and scooting respectively, as well as increases in the proportion of the wider community who were prepared to walk and cycle in the area more generally.
Importantly, the enthusiasm of the school and staff was highlighted by the delivery partner as the biggest asset to the project, again underlining the importance of engagement and buy-in at the school level. It should also be acknowledged however, that the local authority noted the success was in large part due to the provision of a full-time officer by the delivery partner, and commended their level of input, dedication, and the extent of community consultation/liaison that was achieved.
"They got to know folk quite well, and folk bought into it... In terms of community engagement, because we had access to extra staff from [delivery partner], it probably went above and beyond what we would normally be able to achieve in this type of project." (Local Authority Staff)
Planning for Schools
In stakeholder discussions, it was observed that there is little specific reference in terms of national level planning guidance concerning school developments. While Scottish Planning Policy ( SPP) is supportive of developments which are accessible, there is not specific reference in regard to schools when other types of development, such as housing, retail and leisure, are explicitly referenced in the guidance . As well as ensuring developments are accessible, and residential developments in particular take account of access to schools, there is an equal need to ensure that school led developments are also founded on the principles of good access and provision for sustainable modes. The 'Schools for the Future'  programme and proposals to re-build/refurbish 19 schools between 2016 and 2020 provides an opportunity to demonstrate best practice in terms of designing an active and sustainable access to provide exemplars of best practice. Strengthening of guidance at the national level would provide impetus.
Furthermore, it was also highlighted in discussions that the National Performance Framework Indicators, which track progress towards the achievement of the Scottish Government's National Outcomes and ultimately the delivery of the Government's Purpose "to focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth" include mode share by active and public transport for the journey to work, but the school journey is not encompassed. While the Scottish Household Survey collects and reports on school travel, strengthening of the focus could be underpinned further through the National Performance Framework.
The wider dimension in terms of the impact of planning/school policy and choice of school on travel was also acknowledged by one or two parents.
"The biggest things to encourage children to go by bike/ foot/cycle is if you have a school that is close enough to home. Some local schools were recently closed in [location], the council should stop closing these schools." (Primary School Parent)
"Encouraging people to use the schools that are nearer to them rather than using schools that aren't…" (Secondary Pupil Parent)
Fuller integration of the school dimension into any future planning policy and guidance changes would help to ensure school location, access and internal design are considerations at the site identification stage and embedded early on in downstream detailed design stages. This would help to facilitate designing in the provision of active travel access and infrastructure from the outset. In the short-term, further strengthening of the consideration of active travel should be undertaken with schools who are proactively seeking to consider access and taking steps to provide for sustainable access and manage parking challenges at drop-off/pick-up times.
A review of School Travel Planning in Canada also highlighted the impact of school closures on travel choices. These were particularly characterised by larger multi-purpose schools on the edge of communities leading to travel distances less conducive to walking.
Planning for sustainable and active travel to school at the outset is integral to providing a platform for journeys to be made with less orientation towards the private car. Strengthening of national and local planning guidance to consider development from the school perspective in terms of location, access to the school gate as well as physical layout of the school grounds is key to provide environs conducive to walking and cycling as well as the infrastructure within the school to facilitate this, such as secure bike/scooter parking. Good relationships and pro-active support from the local authority are also important to combine to drive and implement successful infrastructure changes.
Email: Veronica Smith
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