Light rain did not deter elected officials from gathering with students at John McCrae Public School in Markham to celebrate the kick-off of their School Street – a temporary car-free zone in front of the elementary school on Sticker Avenue. The celebration included speeches by organizers, elected officials, and community champions, as well as the distribution of prizes for kids who walked or wheeled to school. 

Students were joined by Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, Deputy Mayor Don Hamilton, Councillor Amanda Collucci, Councillor Reid McAlpine, and Councillor Isa Lee; York Region District School Board (YRDSB) Staff Trustees, including Ron Lynn (wards 2, 3, and 6) and Allan Tam (wards 4 and 5); and other partners (Photo: YRDSB)

The Markham School Street initiative uses temporary barriers at either end of the street and restricts access to the school’s Kiss N’ Ride drop-off facility, encouraging parents and caregivers to walk, bike, wheel, or try Drive to 5 (also known as ‘walk a block’ or ‘park & stride’) to reduce vehicle traffic around the school and increase student safety.  

The School Street is located in front of the school on Sticker Ave

The School Street is running every Wednesday throughout the month of May (May 4, 11, 18, and 25), with the street closed to vehicles from 8:15 – 9:15 am and 3:00 – 4:00 pm.  

“Today’s street closure of Stricker proved that we can come together to make this ‘magic’ happen,” remarked Helen Hart, Principal of John McCrae Public School. “We could hear parents and guardians say how for the first time in a very long time, they felt safe walking to school with their children because they were not fearful of a car speeding by and perhaps hitting them. Families were grateful for the opportunity to trial the closure of streets around their children’s school. This is working.” 

The project team will collect data on student perceptions, parent and caregiver views, air quality, and transportation mode share to help evaluate the impacts of the pilot. 

Elected officials, organizers, and community members gathered at John McCrae PS for the launch of the School Streets pilot (Photo: YRDSB)

“This important initiative exemplifies the City of Markham, York Region District School Board and the Regional Municipality of York’s steadfast commitment to creating safer school zones and communities for walking and cycling,” says Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti. “I am very proud that the City of Markham is the first in York Region to test this safety program that promotes active lifestyles and creates safer streets for our students. I am extremely grateful to the parent volunteers who dedicated their time to make programs like these possible.” 

Elected officials, organizers, and community members gathered at John McCrae PS for the launch of the School Streets pilot (Photo: YRDSB)

The Markham School Streets pilot is co-led by YRDSB and the City of Markham, with support from a broad coalition of local and regional partners, including the Markham Cycling and Pedestrian Committee, York Region, York Regional Police, 8 80 Cities, Green Communities Canada (GCC) and The Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT)

“The success of this pilot project is largely attributed to the support and collaboration from the community. It was wonderful to invite everyone out to see the School Street for themselves and experience what a reimagined public space can feel like,” remarked Reena Mistry, Active Travel Coordinator for YRDSB. 

YRDSB Trustee (Wards 2, 3, and 6) and Board Vice-Chair Ron Lynn (Photo: YRDSB)

“The launch day had a big turnout from a range of stakeholders, and I was impressed by the high level of support from the parents, school staff, the municipality, and school board,” observed Sabat Ismail, GCC School Travel Planner. “Everyone seemed really excited about the pilot and how their street can be used in different ways to encourage active school travel, reduce emissions, and foster community.”  

School Streets Barriers in Markham (photo by: YRDSB)

The Markham pilot is the first of three projects taking place this spring as part of the Ontario School Streets Pilot (OSSP). Led by GCC and 8 80 Cities, the OSSP project is testing the implementation of car-free zones at schools in Hamilton, Mississauga, and Markham.  

“The Markham team has been planning the implementation of School Streets for many months, alongside other project partners, and their hard work has certainly paid off! We are thrilled to see the car-free zones in action and look forward to seeing how the pilot evolves throughout the month of May,” shared Jiya Benni, Project Manager at 8 80 Cities. “Markham has already shared initial learnings with partners in Mississauga and Hamilton, helping them to be even better prepared for their pilots operating in May and June.” 

Congratulations to the Markham School Streets co-leads, YRDSB and the City of Markham, on the successful launch of their pilot! 

“I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again over the next three Walking Wednesdays continuing to make this pilot a success and keeping our children and families safe, coming to and from school,” exclaimed Nadia, a Parent Champion from John McCrae Public School.  

To stay in the loop about the Ontario School Streets Pilot project as it rolls out, we encourage you to follow @OntarioAST, @GCCCanada, and @8 80 Cities on Twitter and sign up for the OAST News newsletter.  

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.