Anybody who drives, cycles or even walks to work will be familiar with that blissful sense of calm when the roads suddenly empty at the start of the school holidays and the daily commute approaches something like a pleasurable experience.
It inevitably prompts the thought: what could be done to narrow the gap between this state of affairs and the rest of the year?
Well, driving to work the other day it struck me that one thing that might help would be axing car park charges at the start of the school day.
Park and Stride is a key part of the KM Charity Team’s walk to school campaign, with parents encouraged to park away from the school gates and walk the final five minutes of the journey. To make this easier, local councils could introduce a happy hour system, with public car parks within a mile of schools being free between 8am and 9am.
Car park use at this time is minimal so hard-pressed council budgets would not suffer from lost revenue, but the impact on traffic volumes around the school gate could be considerable.
I’m advocating a trial with one or two target car parks being selected to measure the impact in each local authority area. To be effective, this would need the schools involved to play their part in keeping up a flow of reminder messages to parents that this Park and Stride facility was available.
And cautious councils might only want to target happy hour parking to parents at the schools involved, so a simple permit system administered by those schools might also be needed.
Such a system has been used before. Many years ago, Canterbury City Council’s Mortimer Street car park in Herne Bay town centre had a small number of spaces allocated for families involved in one of my charity’s walking buses. Parents were given a special permit the size of a compliment slip to display on their dashboard.
It would be great to get such a scheme up and running again by September ‑ not just so it’s in time for the start of the new school year but also so it’s ready for Walk to School Month in October.
Local authorities can and should do more to reduce the school run, and elsewhere in the UK councils have sought to do this by introducing limited road closures.
In London, for example, Hackney Council’s School Streets scheme closes zones of roads around five schools in the borough for 45 minutes at the start and finish of the school day.
Such restrictions would, of course, be more practical in more urban areas – like Hackney – where the density of population can mean school commutes are shorter than in places such as Kent, where many pupils – especially those at secondary school – have to travel long distances.
The KM Charity Team certainly doesn’t want to make people’s lives more difficult than they are already, but it is our belief that the benefits of green travel far outweigh the inconveniences.
Find out more about the KM Charity Team’s walk to school scheme Super Wow at www.kmcharityteam.co.uk/walktoschool/wow.