Mountview School Streets pop-up. Photo provided by 8 80 Cities
Excitement is building amongst the three cities participating in the Ontario School Streets Pilot (OSSP) as they prepare to launch on the ground this spring. Led by Green Communities Canada (GCC) and 8 80 Cities, the OSSP project is testing the implementation of car-free zones at schools in Hamilton, Mississauga, and Markham.
Since our November 2021 update, the three city teams have been busy selecting schools to participate, engaging with the community, assembling working groups, securing permits, and planning operations. Coordinating and supporting all of that hard work is 8 80 Cities, whose staff facilitate monthly meetups to foster collaboration and peer-to-peer learning across the three city teams.
“Our monthly meetings enable the School Street pilot cities to learn from one another through the sharing of their unique challenges and ideas, as well as providing opportunities for collaboration across the participating municipalities,” said Jiya Benni, Project Manager at 8 80 Cities.
Throughout the OSSP project, 8 80 Cities is supporting each city team to plan their vision, objectives, school selection criteria, and engagement strategies. The monthly meetups also include guest presentations from other Canadian communities that have been testing the School Streets concept, and a regular Q&A session with representatives from Queens University and the Kingston Coalition for Active Transportation (KCAT), who are currently running a School Street program in Kingston, Ontario.
“Working with 8 80 Cities has helped with our planning process immensely, doing thought-provoking workshops that will help us to have a more successful pilot,” remarked Callaway Johnson, School Travel Planning Coordinator at City of Hamilton.
As the teams are getting ready for implementation of School Streets in Spring 2022, we caught up with their project leads to hear more about their progress and plans.
The City of Mississauga’s School Street team has successfully secured three schools to participate in their School Street pilot. Schools were invited based on a data-driven selection process conducted by a project advisory group. Street design, existing travel patterns, equity considerations, and community support have all been important factors in the selection process.
“We’re really excited about the School Street project. It’s a very different approach to how we usually view planning for the trip to and from school. We’re shifting the focus away from trying to find solutions for traffic management, to focusing on students and what the school journey experience can be for them,” remarked Laura Zeglen, Active Transportation Coordinator at the City of Mississauga and Project Lead for Mississauga’s School Streets project.
A key goal for the Mississauga pilot is to develop strong partnerships between the City of Mississauga and the local community. Accordingly, they have established local project planning teams for each school site, including teaching staff, superintendents, and trustees; students from local high schools; local City councillors and residents; as well as representatives from local community organizations.
Find more information about the City of Mississauga’s School Street pilot on their project webpage.
Project co-leads, York Catholic District School Board and the City of Markham, have been working closely to confirm their school site and gain enthusiastic support from the school administration. The project team has also prepared the communications plan, including letters, surveys, and other engagement materials to be distributed throughout the community.
“Today more than ever, pushing the boundary when it comes to Active School Travel (AST) makes sense. Building culture and changing travel behavior requires changing the way we traditionally think about AST. We are excited to do so through the School Streets project,” exclaimed Reena Mistry, Active Travel Coordinator at York Region District School Board.
After gaining required approvals from the City Councillor, they are planning to present to the School Board’s executive committee as well as the school’s parent council before announcing the participating school publicly.
“Through planning for School Streets, we have had the opportunity to collaborate with different stakeholders we otherwise may not have had the opportunity to do so with. These collaborations have provided a valuable resource which will allow us to strengthen and expand on our AST program moving forward,” said Mistry.
As part of the Markham pilot, the school community will be monitoring air quality around the school site, which will be conducted in collaboration with Dr. Matthew Adams at the University of Toronto.
City of Hamilton staff have successfully secured two schools to participate in their pilot. The local team is currently approaching school councils to gain their support, recruit volunteers, and coordinate the next steps for implementation. This work is also being done in collaboration with municipal councillors to solidify plans and locations for the upcoming street closures.
“Our main goal going into the project is to be able to create an adaptable program for Hamilton that we can bring to any school in the city,” explained Johnson.
The Hamilton team is working to bring together various community groups to develop programming for the School Streets, to ensure that they are community-driven and fun for participating families.
“We want to engage diverse community groups to make these school streets fun and animated, not just ‘closed’ streets,” said Johnson. “We’re looking forward to the Spring, getting the students excited and having the events.”
PREPARING TO LAUNCH
The implementation of School Streets will be happening on the ground between April and June 2022. The exact timing and duration of the temporary car-free zones will vary between each of the participating schools, depending on the nature of the school site and the community’s needs. The next steps for the city teams as they prepare to launch include procuring equipment, scheduling and training volunteers, and planning additional community activation measures.
“We are really excited about the implementation phase of the project, when many months of planning work will come to fruition, and this project will be making a tangible difference in the safety and enjoyment of so many families,” remarked Isooda Niroomand, Program Manager for School Travel Planning at Green Communities Canada.
If you would like to learn more about School Streets and how to bring them to your community, register for these upcoming training events hosted by 8 80 Cities and GCC:
The Ontario School Streets Pilot project is funded through the Ontario Active School Travel Fund, which is made possible through financial support from the Government of Ontario.
Written with significant contributions from Isooda Niroomand and Kate Berry.