Friday 22 September was World Car Free day and schools, parents, pupils and teachers in London took part in a special car-free day as part of Transport for London’s STARS scheme. STARS (Sustainable Travel: Active, Responsible, Safe) is TfL’s flagship schools scheme, engaging young Londoners to travel actively and safely.
Half of London’s schools are currently accredited under STARS, which encourages alternatives to the car such as walking, scooting, cycling and using public transport. During the morning rush hour peak, the school run attributes to 50 per cent of road traffic across the City. This negatively impacts air quality, something our Mayor, Sadiq Khan is committed to improving.
This year, STARS marks its 10 year anniversary and we wanted to mark the occasion with something new. We wanted to see what schools can collaboratively achieve in one day to trigger travel behaviours early in the start of the academic year when new habits are easily formed.
We decided to run and design our car-free day with input from our specialist school officers across London, and launched it in the summer term to give everybody time to plan their own events.
Schools signed up to the day via our knowledge sharing platform, STARS Online, and let us know their individual plans on a speciality created ‘activity card’, one of over 120 such cards that are free resources to guide schools on different activities they can run.
We had over 100 schools sign up across 18 boroughs which was a fantastic result, and thanks goes to our delivery partners across London for encouraging schools to sign up.
On the day, schools took part in a number of activities such as ‘Park and stride’ – where parents park away from the school gate and walk the rest of the journey, and even commissioning road closures outside the school gate for a ‘Play street’.
I went out and about on the day to see some of these activities and the pupils involved clearly wanted the car-free environment near the school gate to be the norm. Abigail, a Junior Travel Ambassador from Alexander McLeod Primary School told me ‘there are usually so many cars around here. I wish it could be car-free day every day!’
Rony Johnson, a grandparent, told me ‘this is a fantastic idea, seeing the streets like this reminds me of my youth, where you took this kind of thing for granted. It’s great to walk to the school gates without having to navigate a sea of cars’.
It was fantastic to have Will’s support and the belief in the possibility of change and moving away from car dependence was palpable on the day. Behaviour change takes sustained work and commitment but it can be achieved. It was amazing to see our STARS schools, pupils, teachers, parents/carers and delivery partners across London boroughs putting active travel to the top of their priority list.
We are now tallying up the vehicle kilometres saved that day and hope to make it an annual event!