‘Children and parents need to feel safe walking to school’

School warning sign
School warning sign

Fear of cars and dodging traffic saw a councillor and mum’s passionate call for ways to improve walking routes to school across Brighton and Hove.

Green councillor Sarah Nield wants more signs and other visual elements to encourage drivers across Brighton and Hove to think more carefully around schools.

She presented a petition signed by more than 1,200 people and asked in a notice of motion to Brighton and Hove City Council for a report exploring how safer walking routes can be achieved within a 10-minute zone around schools.

Councillor Nield reminded members that October is International Walk To School Month, where children are congratulated for walking in and get a sticker.

She described families as launching everything most precious to them into rush-hour traffic on the school run every morning.

Councillor Nield said that communities are frustrated as they campaign for crossings but do not get them because a road is deemed safe due to the lack of accidents.

She said: “A road is not safe just because it has no crash record. A road is safe to cross when a family feels safe while they cross it.

“When they feel safe to let their eight, nine, ten-year-old cross it alone. Hazardous roads suppress demand. People do not want to walk there.

“They also represent a loss of independence for our children.”

Ten-year-old children are losing their freedom to walk to school without parents because of busy roads, she told councillors.

Councillor Nield added: “A road is not safe to cross if you need super-adult ninja-level traffic-dodging skills to get across it at 8.45am.

“The lack of casualty statistics around our schools, which we in Brighton and Hove are still too reliant on to determine so-called safety, is a testament to the heart-in-the-mouth, hand-slammed-on-the-car-bonnet, ‘come on, kids – watch for a gap and we’ll all run across together’, helicopter parenting we somehow accept as normal.

“And it is not good enough. We are failing our children.”

She was backed by fellow Green Sue Shanks, who suggested that everyone get on Shanks’s pony, an old term for walking.

Councillor Shanks said that it was often a struggle for parents, mainly women, who try to get children to school and then make their way on to work.

When she started school in the 1950s everyone walked to school. There was less traffic then. And her sons walked too in the 1990s.

Councillor Shanks said that there were 38.7 million cars on the roads, a number that has increased by more than half since 1990.

She said: “The perfect storm is parents sending children to school further away, women are going to work further away, public transport may be poor but in Brighton and Hove it is not so much of an issue.

“A lot of parents drive because they’re worried about the safety of their children walking to school.”

Councillor Shanks said that she was aware that a lot of 11-year-olds did not get to play out and never left the house.

Conservative councillor Samer Bagaeen told the council that he was familiar with fights for safer crossings in his Hove Park ward, but a lack of accidents meant that the area was not a priority.

He also spoke about secondary school children catching buses across the city to school and called for more enforcement of double yellow lines to make walking safer for older children.

To find out more about his own children’s experience, he caught the bus with them from Royal Sussex County Hospital to school and was shocked at the condition of the bus that he later found out was “old stock”.

Councillor Bagaeen said: “They are not allowed on that bus any more. It is not in a condition I would stick a 12-year-old in at 7.30 in the morning.

“The windows are sealed, cannot be opened and kids are standing on both decks.”

He said that more and better buses were needed to encourage children to walk and catch the bus if needed.

Labour councillor John Allcock, who chairs the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee, said that the council was committed to helping children walk to and from school safely.

He listed a host of projects and work with schools to help children, including pedestrian training in years one and three and scootability for older pupils across the city.

Councillor Allcock took particular delight at scootability, saying that it sounded like a lot of fun.

He said: “Much like your suggestion of school zones, the Safer Routes to School programme looks to introduce a range of measures such as safer crossing points, speed limit reductions, improved signage and road markings.

“To date the council has introduced Safer Routes to School improvements at 18 locations across the city that have benefited 46 schools across the city.”

Councillor Nield said that people were encouraged but wanted to feel safe.

The petition is due to go before the Children, Young People and Skills Committee when it meets on Monday November 11.

The motion calling for a report into optimising safe routes to school and seeking funding options is due to go to the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee which meets on Tuesday November 26.