Chris Thompson: Walking to school a good option

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Edinburgh led the way in the fight against congestion, poor air quality and a growing inactive nation on Tuesday when the first wave of school streets closed to cars, allowing children to walk to school without being surrounded by traffic.

Winning support for the Schools Streets closure programme is a significant achievement for Edinburgh and sets an example to councils throughout Scotland and the UK.

By closing the immediate streets outside school gates, the council and participating schools are sending a resounding message that walking to school, even for the last few minutes, is incredibly important for children and young people’s wellbeing.

By walking to school and reducing traffic on our roads we all benefit from cleaner air. Walking to school can also help children and parents have a healthy and active lifestyle. Despite the clear benefits, the number of pupils walking to school is in serious decline.

At Living Streets, the charity for everyday walking, we want to see others following in Edinburgh’s footsteps.

Our experience working with schools, pupils and parents has illustrated that there are many things that put people off walking, including fast traffic and pavement parking.

This week’s launch of the school street closures in Edinburgh shows that walking to school is both desirable and achievable. Pupils have been dancing and dressing up in celebration of the launch and Abbeyhill Primary enjoyed a walking breakfast with the Living Streets’ Walk to School mascot Strider.

The schools involved have demonstrated how giving space back to people rather than traffic not only improves safety but makes for a more relaxed and friendly environment for everyone.

In the short term, these closures resulted in fewer cars on surrounding roads, a safer environment and active families enjoying the walk to school. In the long term, school road closures will result in lower congestion levels, cleaner air and a healthier nation.

We understand the issues parents face and want schools and local authorities to help make walking children to school a safe and enjoyable option. Over the next ten years, pupil numbers will increase. We need to prioritise the walk to school with initiatives like these school street closures before the inactive children of today become the unhealthy adults of the future.

Chris Thompson is Schools & Projects Co-ordinator at Living Streets in Scotland