Northern Ireland news

Co Down mother joins calls for traffic to be restricted on streets outside primary schools

Jen Banks pictured with her children in Downpatrick
Suzanne McGonagle

A CO Down mother has compared the school run to "going into battle" as she joined calls for traffic to be restricted at drop-off and pick-up times.

Jen Banks said she fears for the safety of her children as the road outside their school, Our Lady’s and St Patrick’s PS in Downpatrick, is "not safe".

She has backed calls by the charity Sustrans for a 'School Streets' initiative to be introduced to restrict traffic on streets outside primary schools for a short period each day, which would enable more children to walk, scoot or cycle.

It would involve the closure of an immediate stretch of road outside a school at drop off and pick up times.

Already successful across the UK and Ireland in promoting active travel, tackling congestion, poor air quality and road safety concerns at schools, Northern Ireland is the only region without the scheme in place.

Recently Belfast City Council passed a motion, tabled by SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite, calling for a pilot in Belfast. However, the statutory powers lie with the Department for Infrastructure.

Ms Banks said: "I have heard other parents describe the school run to Our Lady’s and St Patrick’s PS in Downpatrick as 'going into battle' and whilst they’re joking, they have a point.

"I can’t imagine the street my children’s school is on being much worse."

She said she believed Edward Street, where her children's school is located, could benefit from becoming a 'school street'.

"At the minute there are parked cars lining both sides of the road and a queue of vehicles waiting, engines rolling, at either end for the chance to dart up or down," she said.

"Huge lorries are having to reverse as they’ve got stuck, school buses can’t access the school and cars are mounting the pavements.

"There is a perceivable layer of fumes, anxiety, frustration and danger.

"But turning a section into a 'school street' would mean my child and many others could walk or cycle independently to school which encourages active travel."

Beth Harding from Sustrans said: "More than a quarter of children in Northern Ireland are overweight or obese.

"Active travel through walking and cycling can help reverse this trend and also helps a child’s mental health.

"Reducing traffic and associated carbon emissions around the school gates has the added impact of improving air quality, which has become a significant public health issue especially in urban areas.

"There is great potential to increase the number of children walking and cycling to school and to reduce car use on the school run. Implementing 'School Streets' initiatives can help as we’ve seen from the success in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

"We believe that every child in Northern Ireland who can and who wants to should be able to safely walk and cycle to school."

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