City desk

Is It Time for "Car-Exclusion Zones" Around Schools?

There are gaps in the painted yellow lines that run down Basin Lane in the south-inner city.

It looks as if Dublin City Council didn’t finish them, says Michael Goan, whose kids go to a nearby school. Whatever happened, cars park up in the unpainted spots, causing traffic bottlenecks.

That congestion has become worse with the construction at St James’s Hospital, says Goan’s partner, Gosia Kudyba. Hospital workers who can’t park closer to the hospital now park nearer the school, Canal Way Educate Together.

“The places where people used to drop their kids are now blocked for eight to twelve hours,” says Kudyba. “A very easy solution would be to close that road [Basin Lane] to cars and let parents park on James’s Walk.”

At the end of last week, schools around Dublin closed their doors for the summer, which for morning commuters, means less traffic and more parking spaces. According to a National Transport Authority spokesperson, the school run can account for nearly 30 per cent of morning traffic.

But schools will reopen and the traffic will return. And some parents – like Kudyba – and city councillors are calling for car-exclusion zones near schools, to tackle traffic, reduce emissions, and encourage the use of sustainable transport.

Not everyone is sold on the idea though. And that includes Goan, who says he thinks fixing a few small issues at a time – starting with filling in the gaps in the double-yellow lines on Basin Lane –would be more useful than banning cars altogether.

Making It Safer

Green Party Councillor Patrick Costello says he wants the council to do a feasibility study and to pilot car-exclusion zones on school streets.

That would make them open only to cyclists and pedestrians at school opening and closing times, in an effort to reduce emissions, traffic and encourage walking and cycling. He has a motion pending at the council’s transport committee on this.

“Parents don’t want their kids to walk or cycle because they don’t think it’s safe. This would be a way of making it safe,” Costello says.

Cars cause air pollution too, he says and a UK study found that the air outside schools is very polluted. “I don’t think we’re monitoring it correctly,” he said.

Some London boroughs have brought in car-exclusion zones on school streets. In Camden, participating schools have bollards, patrolled by school staff, Costello says, and in Hackney, they use cameras with automatic license-plate recognition.

Driving to school is a habit says Colm Walsh, of Dublin Cycling Campaign, and a parent at Lios na Nóg school. “Why when we have school holidays does traffic disappear?”

Walsh says he would back any moves like this. After a while, parents would realise that the changes weren’t so bad, he says.

Taking Action

Meanwhile, on Basin Lane, a few parents decided to come together and take on the problem themselves last month.

“There was talk among ourselves about making the street more pedestrian-friendly,” says Faolán Bashford, another parent at Canal Way Educate Together.

Some parents, along with local arts organisation Block T, placed large planters on one side of the road, blocking cars from parking there.

It didn’t change much though, Bashford said, as the main problem is traffic on James’s Walk, around the corner from Basin Lane,. He’d welcome the car-exclusion pilot scheme in their area, he says.

Kudyba says it would be good for safety. She saw an accident a few months ago. “It was packed, a woman was knocked, and an ambulance was called, but it couldn’t get through,” she said.

The Bigger Picture

The spirit of the Costello’s motion is good, says Dermot Stanley, principal of Canal Way Educate Together, “but I wonder if you’re not pushing the problem two streets down”.

Traffic wardens look after hot spots outside schools. If the area is expanded, that gets more difficult.

“Our road is particularly bad. It’s not a through road, so we have people coming from both sides. There are bollards in the middle, it’s a mess,” he says.

But the bigger issue is the patronage system, he says. That “allows people to congregate”.

It means people travel out of their area because they want a Catholic school, or a Deis school, or whatever, he says. “I think the congestion is due to people leaving their areas.”

If you had one common school system, and the state was the sole patron body, you’d have children going to the local school on their street, he says. “If you want a real vision for education, we shouldn’t segregate children.”

In 2015, in Lucan, four Educate Together schools tried to tackle that. They put in place a common enrollment system, so parents applied to Educate Together and an algorithm placed their child in the closest school, while factoring in age and siblings too.

“Most kids walk to school now, because they live close by,” says Tom Moriarty, principal at Adamstown Educate Together. First-come-first-served schools allow for congregation, and “a hierarchy of schools”.

“We think it’s [the common enrollment system] a solution,” he says, adding that it’s important to question where the traffic is coming from .

Exclusion zones are good to protect the children, but it might be a bit heavy-handed, he says.

Kudyba says it could motivate and educate people though. “If you’re late three times, maybe you’d consider cycling.”

Zuzia Whelan portrait
Zuzia Whelan

Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at zwhelan@dublininquirer.com.

 

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