Parents of children attending a primary school in Worcester, where children riding their bikes have been put in danger by motorists using a narrow, nearby lane as a shortcut, have 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 has criticised the parents’ unofficial actions, which he claims has seen them take “the law and road safety into their own hands, effectively blockading a road without a permit and without permission”.
First #schoolstreet trial day @StGeorgesRCWorc today = 99.99% of positive feedback from parents and residents with some of them helping out. Here’s Thorneloe walk spared from the cut through traffic this pm 😍THANK YOU EVERYONE 👏🏻@WorcsTravel @mikerouseuk @BikeWorcester pic.twitter.com/SpJRWYJSRO
— Froggybelle (@Froggybelle2) June 26, 2023
Road safety issues have long been a source of frustration and concern for teachers and parents at St George’s Roman Catholic, a small primary school in Worcester. Tucked away, as one parent tells road.cc, on the corner “where a narrower road meets an even narrower lane”, the school has been the sight of numerous near misses involving motorists and children cycling and walking to school.
“There is no room for a pavement, pedestrians and bikes have to squeeze along the side wall to make way for a car, it’s even worse when a van passes,” Isabelle, a resident who has walked her children to school for many years along Thorneloe Walk, the scene of most of the road safety issues, and a volunteer with the school’s Bike Bus, tells road.cc.
“Vehicles reaching the corner of the Walk have to perform a three (or more) point manoeuvre there, which is also the main entrance to school for children on foot/bike/scooters. You can imagine the mayhem at school times!
“The brick wall opposite the school gate has been knocked down twice, and temporary boarding now makes the corner even narrower.”
Isabelle says that there have been several attempts by the school to address the safety issues over the past decade, including weekly ‘bike to school’ initiatives, warnings to parents not to use Thorneloe Walk if travelling by car, and attempts to monitor parking and driving in the area by the council.
An attempt in 2020 to set up a School Street, an initiative adopted throughout Great Britain in recent years which restricts the use of motor vehicles outside schools at drop-off and pick-up times, applying to both school and through traffic, was met with a lacklustre response from Worcestershire County Council, which Isabelle says left parents “completely discouraged”.
After the brick wall on the lane was knocked down again last November, a petition to install bollards or create a School Street received over 200 signatures within a week – only for the petitioners to be told by the council that their expectations were “unrealistic”.
Footage from one of our bike bus routes to @StGeorgesRCWorc #Worcester. Thorneloe Walk is currently used as a shortcut by drivers at school pickup time ⚠️ Can we get any help from @WorcsTravel to stop this? @mikerouseuk @MelAllcott @BikeWorcester pic.twitter.com/LCpNHFVHvP
— Froggybelle (@Froggybelle2) June 24, 2023
The issue again came to a head last week, when the closure of a main road next to the school, due to a burst water pipe, prompted many drivers to begin using Thorneloe Walk as a short cut.
“Within hours, the traffic through Thorneloe Walk, which is normally bad, became horrendous,” Isabelle, who posted a video on Twitter of the chaotic traffic situation as the Bike Bus attempted to make it to school, says.
“Lorries tried to squeeze through, then had to reverse, cars came head to head from both ends of the walk. All of this in the midst of children.
“It became evidence for us – the county council has not helped the community for over 10 years, the likelihood of an accident was at that point higher than ever. We needed to act and make our voices heard!”
— SHIFT (@goSHIFTscheme) June 26, 2023
On Monday, several parents, clad in hi-vis jackets, set up their own School Street on the lane, to allow their children to walk and cycle to and from school safely.
“It is quite simple to set up: you need a barrier, cones, people, hi-vis, a clipboard for that official look, some leaflets to explain your action and school streets principles, and a smiley face,” Isabelle says.
“We are lucky to have had support from our local city councillors and from Bike Worcester, which is a pressure group promoting active travel within the city.”
She continues: “The amount of positive feedback has been overwhelming. Parents and residents are thanking us every day for taking a stand. I was particularly touched by parents standing in solidarity with us and sharing their horror story of seeing their child nearly run over by the school.”
Second day of our #schoolstreet trial @StGeorgesRCWorc 👍 Strong feelings of support and togetherness as people stop to share stories of near-misses and incidents from the past. This photo is from a local resident - school gate right behind lorry😱👇 pic.twitter.com/XWDvmfjhrQ
— Froggybelle (@Froggybelle2) June 27, 2023
The parent’s action, the necessity of which was underlined yesterday morning when a lorry driver crashed into a wall on Thorneloe Road, adjacent to the makeshift School Street, has garnered support from several local politicians, including Green Party city councillor Karen Lewing.
“School Streets are popping up around the country, but the county council does not yet have a policy. They say they are working on one but they’re not working as fast as we would like,” she said this week.
The initiative was also praised on Twitter by broadcaster and cycling campaigner Jeremy Vine, who said that “we need to move away from the idea that people who own large metal boxes get priority over the rest of us just because they have an accelerator pedal. It’s nuts.”
However, not everyone is fully behind the unofficial School Street.
Councillor Mike Rouse, cabinet member with responsibility for Highways and Transport at Worcestershire County Council, criticised the parents and residents for taking matters into their own hands.
“I cannot condone campaigners taking the law and road safety into their own hands, effectively blockading a road without a permit and without permission,” he tweeted. “We need to work together to effect change, not force our ideas onto communities without being certain that they’ve consented.”
He continued in a statement: “School Streets and similar initiatives need the support of the school and the local community together in order to become formalised and be successful in the long term.
“School Streets are just one way of encouraging active travel by walking and cycling to and from our schools, we have also achieved this in areas around the county by installing crossing points, and dropping nearby kerbs to allow easier access to do this.
“Where actions like [those at St George’s] have happened elsewhere we see a rise in community tensions, so we call on all those involved to work with us constructively and not to take the law and road safety into their own hands.”
Nevertheless, Isabelle says the success of the makeshift School Street has led to talk that the county council will soon begin to actively promote the initiative, with guidance reportedly being prepared by the Highways department.
“We do hope that the safety of children and their families on the way to school will finally become a priority in Worcestershire,” she says.
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.