School zone traffic calming measures promote citizen health and coexistence
The school environment is a priority area for the health and well-being of children and their families. That is why since 2020, the "Protecting Schools" programme has promoted the transformation and improvement of streets adjacent to 217 schools in the city of Barcelona, through traffic calming, the incorporation of street furniture and vegetation, and the removal of parking spaces.
Traffic calming measures for school environments make it possible to create healthier, more inclusive and high-quality spaces for coexistence. This is the conclusion of a report (in Catalan) that evaluates the urban interventions carried out as part of the "Protecting Schools" programme of the Barcelona City Council, highlighting the health benefits not only for children, but also for the rest of the community
A preliminary report by researchers from the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) in collaboration with the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) analyses the changes related to these interventions around eight specific schools, looking at five different dimensions: use of public space, pedestrian flow and movement, children's play in the street, the flow of motorised vehicles traffic and air quality.
The study distinguishes between two traffic calming strategies: those that include a total cut-off of motorised vehicle traffic (school street) and those that include a partial cut-off (convivial street).
All the school environments evaluated show improvements in some of their dimensions. An overall reduction in the flow of motorised vehicles of 80% is observed, reaching almost 90% in the streets that have benefited from total traffic calming.
The researchers point out that people take ownership of the streets that have been traffic calmed, and the use of public space has tripled where streets have been closed to traffic. "The interventions where the street was closed to traffic stand out. This is where we see the best results: in Fígols street in front of the Escola Lavínia, in the street la Baixada de Can Mateu in front of the Escola Carabassa, and the pacification of Leiva street in front of the Institut Escola Arts", explains Jordi Honey-Rosés, researcher at ICTA-UAB and coordinator of the study with Mònica Ubalde from IS Global.
The transformation of the school environment has led to more inclusive spaces that are increasingly used by older peopleand children. The reduction in traffic attracts more street play by children, with a fourfold increase, and there is also an increase in the proportion of girls playing in the street. This situation favours an increase in physical activity and social relations among the children, promoting their physical and emotional health, and favouring their development. "This has been notably detected in the pacified environments of the Lavínia, Arts and Calabaza schools", says Mònica Ubalde.
There has been a general improvement in air quality in the calmed environments. The restriction of traffic has contributed to a reduction of between 2 and 7% in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels in the area, particularly in Fígols street, in front of the Escola Lavínia, where traffic has been significantly reduced. This decrease helps the respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological health of the population, such as childhood asthma or the neurodevelopment of children", explains Mònica Ubalde, co-coordinator of the study. For this reason, they consider the "Protegim Les Escoles" programme to be a key element in achieving a peaceful and healthy city, as a tool for transformation that prioritises the most vulnerable population in favour of all citizens.
This preliminary report analyses calmed school environments in 2021. The full results of the study, including transformations in 2022, are planned to be presented in a final document to be published in the near future.