The morning drop-off has become less chaotic, and much more fun for students and families at Strathcona Elementary School in Hamilton this June. This is all thanks to the creation of a temporary car-free zone in front of the school, part of the City of Hamilton’s School Streets pilot project. The initiative encourages students to walk, bike, or wheel to school and enjoy the extra space to play and socialize. Many families have been arriving early to school, bringing skipping ropes, skateboards, roller blades, bikes, and many other fun items to get some extra play in before the school day.
“When we were approached by the City of Hamilton to be a pilot school for School Streets, we were excited to join in partnership with them. School Streets allows our students and their families to use the street in front of our school to gather and enjoy time together on the way to school,” shared Dale Hill, Principal of Strathcona Elementary School. “It has given us a glimpse into what it would be like to have fewer cars on the road and an opportunity to discuss environmental impacts from vehicles. It has been wonderful to feel the energy of students having fun while being active before they start their school day. We hope to be able to expand this initiative in the future.“
Planning and Logistics
The Hamilton School Streets initiative runs on Tuesday mornings from 8:30 – 9:00 am for the morning drop-off period. Each Tuesday, contractors use static, temporary barriers at either end of the street, fully restricting vehicle access in front of the school. Following consultation with Hamilton Police Services and due to heightened concerns in the wake of recent security threats to local schools, the City of Hamilton took the extra precaution of placing a service vehicle at each barrier location to reinforce the closure.
After months of planning and community engagement work to select the location and format of the School Street, the project team has been delighted with the response from the school community:
“The School Streets pilot at Strathcona has been a huge success so far! It’s been amazing to see the overwhelming support and energy that the Strathcona school community brings to the event each week,” remarked Callaway Johnson, School Travel Planning Coordinator at the City of Hamilton. “The best moment to watch is when the last barrier is placed on the street and the students and parents instantly but almost naturally move out onto the street. It’s really cool to see a space that is always reserved for vehicles, be taken over for children to play.”
The project team delivers programming in the street, providing equipment for social activities such as lawn games, hula hoops, and more! The initiative is also welcoming local environmental organization Green Venture to conduct air quality monitoring and educate students and families about air pollution surrounding schools.
“Observing the setting–up of the School Street, I was blown away by how many families arrived early with their roller blades and skateboards, ready to enjoy the space!” shared Kate Berry, Program Director at Green Communities Canada. “After two years of pandemic stress, seeing so many parents laughing and talking together was truly joyful.”
The Hamilton pilot has also benefitted from the support of the local city councillor, who provided help with the process of selecting a school site, designing the layout, and obtaining a street closure permit.
“Active school travel makes a difference in the lives our children, resulting in healthier children, less traffic and pollution, safer school streets, and better academic performance. The School Streets pilot at Strathcona Elementary School and closure of Lamoreaux St. show us what’s possible,” shared Ward 1 Councillor, Maureen Wilson.
The Hamilton pilot is the third of three projects that have happened this spring as part of the Ontario School Streets Pilot (OSSP). Led by Green Communities Canada (GCC) and 8 80 Cities, the OSSP project is testing the implementation of car-free zones at schools in Markham, Mississauga, and Hamilton.
“The Hamilton School Streets has been a great success and is a testament to the commitment and determination of the team,” said Jiya Benni, Project Manager at 8 80 Cities. “Their approach to programming the space for students and families has helped to demonstrate the social connection that can come from street closures. It will bring valuable insight to the OSSP report findings!”
Congratulations to the City of Hamilton on their successful School Streets pilot!
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.