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“Cameras do not prevent a driver making a mistake”: Teachers and parents urge council to save School Street after motorist nearly hits child on bike outside school where barriers were removed

The local council’s decision to rip out bollards from several School Streets will “endanger the safety” of children cycling, walking, and scooting to school, parents say

Parents and teachers have criticised a council’s plans to rip out protective bollards at several local primary schools, claiming that a reliance on CCTV cameras to enforce the School Streets will “endanger the safety” of children cycling and walking, after a motorist was filmed almost hitting two children on bikes right outside a nearby school where the physical protection was recently removed.

Over 800 people have signed a petition to save the School Street at Bessemer Primary School in North Dulwich, which was established five years ago as one of 18 similar initiatives in the London borough of Southwark, restricting the use of motor vehicles outside schools at drop-off and pick-up times and applying to both school and through traffic.

Southwark Council officers have indicated that the local authority intends to remove the physical barriers – collapsible bollards installed at the entrance to each School Street – from the primary school by 2 January, a move which opponents claim has been made without formally consulting the school, parents, or residents.

Bessemer Primary School Street (credit: Alice Bing)

Bessemer Primary's School Street (credit: Alice Bing)

While the physical protection will be removed, CCTV cameras will remain in place to enforce the School Street, which campaigners claim will simply “generate income for the council”, rather than actively keep children cycling or walking safe.

However, the council has claimed that the use of ANPR cameras is “preferable” as physical protection is not required, while removing the “risk” of barriers being left up at non-designated times.

The decision to rip out the bollards at Bessemer Primary School comes after barriers were removed at another school in the borough, Alleyn’s Junior School on Hillsboro Road, while Harris Primary Academy’s School Street in East Dulwich is also under threat.

Last week, footage was shared on social media of a motorist “racing” through the now unprotected School Street at Alleyn’s Junior School, failing to give way, and close passing two children on bikes right outside the school gates, causing them to scream.

“This was undoubtably safer with barriers at either end, now ineffective £ ANPR cameras,” the Dulwich Roads account, who posted the video to X, formerly Twitter, said.

“We’re told that the school are prepared to continue to man the barriers, but the council won’t let them or the parents. Meanwhile, school street barriers are being removed elsewhere. What is going on in Southwark Council?”

> Student cycling to school knocked off bike after being hit by parent driving a car, suffers minor injuries

Calling on the local authority to reconsider their decision to rip out the bollards at Bessemer Primary School, headteacher Elizabeth Whitehead said: “Our school, which has over 600 pupils, is ‘split site’ so covers both sides of the road. Parents and children need to cross the road to collect children from each side of the road and staff also escort children from site to site while the barriers are still up.

“As a school, we worked closely with parents, local councillors, and other residents to ensure it was a success. School staff have been supporting the scheme by putting the barriers up and down, something which we have always been happy to do.”

Alan Foster, the chair of the parents’ association Friends at Bessemer, added: “After five years, children and adults are now used to the road closure and use the space to walk, cycle, and scoot in a much safer environment. Taking this away would endanger their safety.

“If the proposed solution is for physical barriers to be replaced with ANPR cameras, we are concerned that they do not prevent a driver making a mistake that could result in a tragic accident.

“We have a good solution now. The council is seeking to fix a non-problem, with a less safe option. This serves no-one.”

> Mum compares school run to “going into battle” as Sustrans calls for School Streets to be introduced in Northern Ireland

“The bizarre thing is this is popular with people who live on the street, parents and pupils, and the school. With 600 pupils it can get very crowded on the pavements so closing the road makes things much easier and safer,” Alex Bigham, a parent who started the petition to the council, said.

“The cameras in our area already generate millions of pounds of revenue, it seems only right that a small proportion of that is spent on keeping and maintaining the bollards which keep our children safe.”

Meanwhile, the headteacher at Harris Primary Academy, which also faces the prospect of losing the barriers, wrote to parents earlier this year, telling them that “with the ANPR cameras in place, Southwark Council have advised that there should not be a need for the physical barriers across the school street boundaries.

“We feel that removing the barriers would be too risky for our school community, so staff will continue to bring them out each morning and afternoon.”

> School bike racks destroyed by speeding, out-of-control motorist, as pupils and teachers stage protest demanding introduction of 20mph limit

Responding to the criticism from parents and teachers regarding the planned removal of Bessemer Primary’s barriers, James McAsh, Southwark Council’s cabinet member for the climate emergency, clean air, and streets, said: “A school street will remain at this specific site. As with all school streets, we work very closely with the school on how we manage the local area and we are meeting Bessemer Grange school leaders to discuss the next steps and their preference for traffic management.

“Children’s safety is paramount and how we manage traffic near schools is generally guided by the wishes of the school, nothing has changed in that.

“ANPR is often preferable as it doesn’t require physical operation and removes the risk of barriers being left up or down at the wrong times.”

Chisenhale Primary 'School Street' protest (credit - Twitter, ChisenhaleRoad)

> Children take to the barricades to save School Street

The opposition to Southwark Council’s plans is not the first time that schools and parents have defied the wishes of local authorities displaying reticence or outright opposition to School Streets.

Last October, children and parents at Chisenhale Primary School in Bow took to the barricades (literally), mounting barriers and blocking the road, in a bid to prevent their School Street from being ripped out by the pro-motoring mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman.

The demonstration, worthy of a West End production of Les Misérables, took place after workers began to remove the play area and traffic restrictions, including seats, planters, and artwork that the schoolchildren had helped to build and create, as part of a council decision which parents and teachers again claimed was carried out without proper consultation.

Traffic chaos near St George's RC Primary School, Worcester (Forggybelle, Twitter)

> “We needed to act”: Parents set up unofficial guerrilla School Street after several near misses for children cycling on narrow road used as shortcut by motorists

And earlier this year, parents of children attending a primary school in Worcester, where children riding their bikes have regularly been put in danger by motorists using a narrow, nearby lane as a shortcut, established their own guerilla School Street by blocking both ends of the road at school pick-up times, in response to the “horrendous” road safety conditions in the area.

However, the local county council’s cabinet member for transport criticised the parents’ unofficial actions, which he claimed saw them take “the law and road safety into their own hands, effectively blockading a road without a permit and without permission”.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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14 comments

Avatar
bermondseylido | 7 months ago
4 likes

The campaign at Bessemer was successful - Southwark councillors decided that the bollards should stay.

 

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to bermondseylido | 7 months ago
0 likes
bermondseylido wrote:

The campaign at Bessemer was successful - Southwark councillors decided that the bollards should stay.

Good news, when was that?

Avatar
bermondseylido replied to Rendel Harris | 7 months ago
1 like

From earlier in the week: The Parents Association is delighted to announce that Bessemer Safe Street and the bollards are going to stay. The school and Parents reps met with Councillor McAsh and the Highways team, and they have agreed to keep things as they are. We are grateful that Southwark has listened. Thank you to EVERYONE who has joined our campaign.

There will be a meeting between the school and the Council’s engineers in the next week or so. But the existing bollards are not standard Council items so it will take a while longer to get the relevant parts to repair the current broken one (of eight).

The Council is also open to exploring the possibility of installing better quality bollards (eg telescopic ones that would be less likely to break), but work would need to be done to ascertain whether that is technically possible on the site.

Avatar
eburtthebike | 7 months ago
1 like

.....a move which opponents claim has been made without formally consulting the school, parents, or residents.

and

As with all school streets, we work very closely with the school.............

“Children’s safety is paramount and how we manage traffic near schools is generally guided by the wishes of the school, nothing has changed in that."

Hmmmmmmmm.

Before I looked it up, I had a small bet with myself about what political party runs Southwark: I lost.  The Labour party has 52 councillors, the Liberal Democrat party has 11 councillors.

Avatar
Brauchsel | 7 months ago
2 likes

Our primary school is also in Southwark, and has had its barriers (concertina-type things that school staff put up and took down) replaced by cameras. The cameras weren't actually working for the first three months. 

They do work now, apparently. But it's replaced a physical/visible barrier with signs that inattentive motorists (ie motorists) may not notice. It wasn't perfect before, as the layout means that resident car access is required: quite why so many residents need cars in central London with two train stations within a mile and about 20 bus routes is another matter. It isn't awful now, as the street is very obviously filled with kids at pick-up/drop-off times and most drivers are local. But it's worse, and I've seen a few close-ish calls where drivers have come through where previously they wouldn't. I doubt their receiving an FPN would be of much comfort to a knocked-down child. 

Southwark are usually fairly good at this sort of stuff, and it's vastly better than a lot of the country has to put up with. But I don't like the direction this is heading, as a number of our LTNs have gone from barrier to camera enforcement recently too. I suspect the lobby of selfish arseholes who *need* to drive their massive status symbols along narrow streets is getting its way, helped along by a narrative that clean air and fewer road deaths are a fad being imposed by middle-class gentrifiers (like me). 

Avatar
Rendel Harris replied to Brauchsel | 7 months ago
2 likes

Quite a lot of the reasoning also seems to be based on the generally false accusation that LTNs and school streets can hold up emergency vehicles, despite the fact that the London ambulance service have said they've made very little difference. It would be interesting to know the cost differential between an APNR camera (and the staff required to monitor it et cetera) and physical barriers that can be opened by qualifying parties such as emergency services, disabled drivers or whatever. Intuitively I would have thought a barrier would be cheaper but that's just a guess.

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chrisonabike replied to Rendel Harris | 7 months ago
3 likes

+1 from this old grump also.  I favour things which actually stop the problem from occurring, rather than trying to correct it afterwards (and hopefully modify behaviour at some point down the line).

However there seems to be a very strong bias towards "must involve electronics" / "must be digitally connected" for anything now.

Also anything involving a human being employed has been something to avoid for a long time now (or rather - can we just have one person in an office covering a large area, remotely?)

As a trivial (and slightly insane, to me...) example how are you going to monitor and adjust your tyre pressure (and share it with the world) while riding without digital tech?

Of course there are all kinds of ways round/through if "but emergency vehicles" is actually a valid concern.

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NotNigel | 7 months ago
9 likes

Had a bit of an eye opener to how entitled people dropping their kids off think they are.  Group of kids on bikes riding down the street where their school is,  parked cars all along the opposite side of the road...not one motorist coming in the opposite direction hung back behind the parked cars to give way to the kids on bikes forcing them to mount the pavement.

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ROOTminus1 | 7 months ago
14 likes

A core principle within engineering is something known as the hierarchy of risk protections. It lays out a framework for the order in which approaches to removing people from harm should occur.
Rule 1 is "Eliminate" if you can remove the risk entirely, do it. Nothing is better than physically keeping cars away from people.
Managerial precautions, like ANPR and signs are barely one step above making everyone wear helmets, hi-vis, and safety glasses, which is the last step before saying "F-it, let them die".

It seems a lot of councils, in this case Southwark, just don't give a shit about protecting lives

Avatar
Moist von Lipwig replied to ROOTminus1 | 7 months ago
4 likes

However, what you forgoet is that for some reason as soon as its to do with roads, the risk triangle gets inverted and the E of ERIC is the last thing rather than the first.  I can't think of anywhere else where this happens.

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Backladder | 7 months ago
13 likes

There is no "risk" if barriers are left in place at non designated times, merely a slight inconvenience to motorists, what is that compared to the safety of the children?

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AidanR | 7 months ago
11 likes

There's a school street on my commute, which used to have physical, manned (personned?) barriers but now is "enforced" by cameras. It's so poorly signposted that for the first couple of weeks after the change I thought they'd scrapped the school street entirely.

Mostly drivers don't go down the street, but "mostly" isn't enough. When the barriers were up, kids and parents were all over the street and it was fantastic. Now it's just like any other road, albeit not dominated so much by cars but by the threat of cars.

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hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
9 likes

This reinforces my belief that school streets should be closed to motorised traffic at set-down/pick-up times.

Also, as an aside, the parents blocking their own school street is an example where disobeying the law is appropriate (referencing a few posts in the one-way streets discussion https://road.cc/content/news/police-criticised-targeting-cyclists-one-way-system-305451)

Avatar
Rendel Harris | 7 months ago
19 likes

All of these school streets are in my neck of the woods and none of them causes serious inconvenience to motorists when in operation (literally a matter of nipping round the block) and I've never seen the schools forget to remove the barriers when not in operation. ANPR is not a substitute, there is a growing number of drivers using cloned or false plates or deliberately making their plates so filthy they can't be read by cameras who will see this as an opportunity to ratrun with impunity. "Solution" to a non-existent problem that will create a host of new ones. Hope it won't take a child being injured or worse to make the authorities see sense on this.

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