Asa Thomas

Supervisors: Rachel Aldred, Tom Cohen, and Jamie Furlong

Mediating Mobility at the School Gate: Interpreting London’s school street schemes

FOLLOWING THE INITIAL stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the closure of streets in front of London’s schools has expanded from a marginal policy to one that covers nearly a third of state-funded primary schools across the city. This rapid or ‘tactical’ expansion has improved the air quality and public space of many of the streets by schools. However, as with other cities that have pursued similar programmes of road space reallocation in recent years, the expansion of these schemes raises several questions around the evolving nature of urban change, the fairness of these practices (and their outcomes), as well as their ability to impact urban mobility systems more systematically.

This PhD explores these questions using a mixture of methods and data, including practitioner interviews, spatial analysis of the distribution of ‘School Streets’, and school mobility data. It finds that although policymakers have been successful in rapidly introducing a widespread programme of schemes with much less controversy than similar measures, issues of equity remain; there is little evidence of prioritisation of schools facing the worst air pollution at the city-scale, and there are significant disparities across London’s administrative geography. Focusing on the impacts of these schemes on mobility, this research also shows that School Streets have had a broader impact on journeys to school, with decreased use of motor vehicles detected. These findings contribute to wider debates surrounding the role such ‘tactical’ approaches to streets have on influencing how people travel in the city.

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