"We need school streets in Sheffield to stop reckless parking"
Things look different to a seven year old. Helen Brown is demonstrating this at school pick up time.
Someone has chosen to park a huge vehicle of the kind originally designed for grouse shooting on a double yellow line, on a corner, at the bottom of a very steep hill leading onto a busy road by Hunters Bar junior and infant schools. Helen stoops down to infant height.
“A child trying to cross here has to step out into the middle of the road to see what’s coming.”
The traffic queue two metres away means she can’t hear anything driving down the hill while she peers round the Landrover, and a large van sweeps by two feet from her head.
“Parking like this is reckless. It endangers life,” Helen says. An oblivious woman with a small bag from a nearby shop steps in the Landrover and drives away.
Helen and fellow Hunters Bar parents have sometimes politely asked drivers parking dangerously, across junctions or on double yellow lines,, if they could park elsewhere. It doesn’t always go well.
“A few times I’ve been physically intimidated by drivers,” says Hannah Collison, who says she feels she has to say something when drivers park dangerously, for the sake of any child.
“I’m a small woman, and I’ve had big men standing over me, shouting at me, swearing at me, asking me who do I think I am telling them what to do? It’s not nice for my little boy. So I’ve stopped doing it.”
In another local case a mother was threatened after asking a SUV driver to move his car after effectively blocking a side road to walkers and other drivers. After swearing at her in front of her son, he left his car and followed her, shouting at her, until bystanders intervened.
Hunters Bar school is not unusual, and Helen and her colleagues want to see Sheffield Council enable ‘School Streets’ as a matter of course at city schools. There are now four trial Sheffield School Streets in operation, where through drivers are excluded from certain roads at school drop off and pick up times.
South Yorkshire Active Travel Commissioner Dame Sarah Storey is an enthusiastic supporter of School Streets and says there are around 50 School Streets proposals in the first stage of development, with the aim to have several hundred across South Yorkshire. (o apply visit https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/home/roads-pavements/school-street-closures)
“We’re in the thick of a nationwide boom in School Streets here in South Yorkshire,” she said, adding that once enacted, measures to reduce traffic around schools are very popular. She says parents and grandparents suffering from health problems related to poor air quality and lack of activity tell her they want to see their kids growing up able to play outside and walking or cycling to school.
“They say we need to do something so these difficult health conditions don’t meet our children so early in life.”
As a primary school mum herself, Sarah also asks drivers to park more safely. “Walking is still the majority mode for primary age schoolchildren, but unfortunately the minority of people using huge vehicles always dominate streets.”
She says abuse of the kind suffered by some Hunters Bar mothers is a police matter. “It's clearly unacceptable and again highlights the issue of a few people believing their entitlement to drive and store their vehicle is more important than anyone else's journey.”
“I know not everyone has the option of walking to school,” says Hannah Collison. “But everyone who drives has the option of setting off five minutes earlier so they can park safely.”
Helen says walking and cycling to schools needs to be ‘enabled’ by the council, not just encouraged, with a citywide School Streets programme, and interventions like improved walking routes.
At Hunters Bar, the need is urgent, she says.
“We want to get something done before a child gets hurt.”