Saša Novak Uí Chonchúir

Green Party Councillor for Limerick City North

Candidate in Local Elections on 7th June

School Streets/Zones – Limerick

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At July Metropolitan meeting I presented a motion asking the Council to develop a School Streets pilot scheme, similar to the scheme in Fingal. It was deferred to the Transport SPC and it will finally come up for discussion today.

I was hoping that at the time, especially with the new experience of Covid 19, the council would take a more proactive role and provide a safer environment for the children finally returning to school. Hoping as well at the time that we would be seeing a tail end of the pandemic. I acknowledge that our Physical Directorate had engaged with the schools and some measures were put in place, however, the school gate congestion, parking on footpaths, and engines running continue unabated around most schools.

It’s now 3 months later, we’re in the second wave of the pandemic, in another lockdown. The issue of safer streets around schools is always important, but it’s quite critical at this moment in time. We have a situation where the schools remain open, but most businesses are closed and most people are required to work from home. The last time this happened in March and April, the roads had fewer cars but people drove much faster. It is imperative therfore that we view the need for school streets in two stages. 

The first stage requires immediate response due to the circumstances of the pandemic. Creating School Streets or Zones that include, but are not limited to, increased park and stride facilities, changes in traffic lights sequence that give more time to children to cross, a strict campaign against parking and driving on footpaths, increased footpath widths, temporary (advisory if must be) lower speed limits around every school, colourful signage and paint to indicate clearly that this is a school area and the children rule here. These measures are not punitive, they are simply putting the safety and health of children first. 

The second stage requires a longer term approach, similar to that of Fingal, whereby every primary and secondary school in Limerick is surrounded by a safe perimeter, in which pedestrians have a clear priority. There are many ways how this can be achieved, including making all of the above mentioned measures permanent.

The need for safer and healthier environment around the schools has been on my mind for a long time, long before I became a councillor. 

I remember watching the Olympics as a child – a long time ago! To this day I remember a joke the commentator made about American athletes dominating the track running up to 400m in distance but were not at the top beyond that. He said it was because in America everywhere beyond 400m, they drive. Fast forward about 30 years and my own kids expect to be driven almost everywhere. This is, most certainly, my doing. The question is, why? 

Am I lazy? Yes, sometimes. 

Is it raining? Yes, sometimes. 

Is it too far to walk? Yes, sometimes.

But what about  other times?

Do kids love jumping in the puddles? Yes, always.

Does an umbrella (or a rain coat) keep you dry? Yes, (almost) always

Are footpaths blocked by cars? Yes, always.

Are the road crossing distances at junctions too long to cross safely with kids? Yes, almost always.

The red line is the desire line, where most people cross. It alows for higher vehicle speeds, but it gives pedestrians a greater challenge to cross as the angle affects visibility and the distance means you’re exposed to traffic for much longer than is safe. Imagine a parent with a buggy, a 4 year old on a scooter and a 6 year old walking along, trying to cross this road to get to the library in Watchhouse Cross, or the school, the health centre or the shop.

Are the pedestrians last in the traffic lights sequence? Yes, always.

Do drivers beep at kids for standing on the kerb of the footpath? It happens.

And most importantly:

Can we do something about it? Yes, always. School Streets (or zones) are a start.