It's safe, it's joyous and it's gathering steam.
Open Streets offers an alternative vision of daily drop-off and pick-ups by dedicating the space around schools to active travel.
It encourages families to leave the car at home and walk, ride, scoot or skate their way to and from school instead. And as the idea catches on, safer, happier and healthier streets may be on the way all around Melbourne. And perhaps far beyond.
A global movement
Open Streets is an Australian-first initiative but draws inspiration from programs overseas such as School Streets, which is being trialled by an increasing number of towns and cities in the UK.
The "Rue aux Écoles" (Streets to Schools) program in Paris is progressing rapidly, too. It is part of an initiative by the city to combat traffic congestion, air pollution and climate change by limiting motor traffic and opening roads around kindergartens and primary schools to active travel.
The aim is to establish these streets around 230 schools in metropolitan Paris. Already, 126 streets to schools have been created since the program was introduced in 2020. Roads that were until recently packed with cars have become calm and colourful streets offering families safe and playful routes to school.
Similar initiatives have been introduced in various forms right across Europe and North America. Between 2019 and April 2022, the number of school streets rolled out around the world rocketed from 20 to more than 1200, according to a report by the Child Health Initiative.
Baby steps down under
The concept of school streets came to life in Australia through a partnership between Bicycle Network and Merri-bek City Council in March 2021 at Brunswick East Primary School.
The first Open Streets took place during school drop-off and pick-up hours across three Fridays and were met with overwhelming satisfaction by the community. Active travel rates increased by 18.3% on event days and more than 80% of survey respondents supported the idea of making them a weekly occurrence.
The program was then a finalist in the 2021 Victorian Health Promotion Awards and further trials followed later that year at Coburg North Primary School. Another three schools in Merri-Bek took part in 2022.
In 2023, Open Streets has expanded into new terrain through trials at Lloyd Street Primary School in the City of Stonnington. Here active travel rates increased by 27.6% on event days and 92% of survey respondents said they'd like to see Open Streets take place regularly in the future.
"It got people talking about active transport when they wouldn’t otherwise have," said one parent of the Stonnington Open Streets trials. "It was good to have less congestion at the drop-off zone. Kids looked forward to it each week."
Five schools are set to take part this year, and the Open Streets program has also attracted interest from further afield, including councils in regional Victoria.
Australian kids are among the least active in the world, according to a study by Monash University, ranking 140th out of 146 countries for physical activity. Creating safe spaces for them to walk and ride as part of their everyday travel can help turn this trend around and build healthy habits that last a lifetime.
"We have made great progress in a short space of time," says Bicycle Network Ride2School Program Manager Manon Dolet. "It's fantastic to see more and more councils reaching out and being interested in Open Streets. I can't wait to see them popping up all over Melbourne, Victoria and why not... all of Australia!"