Kingston city council voted in favour of a new pilot program that would close city streets near a school and in a neighbourhood to allow children more access to the road.
Patricia Collins, an associate professor in the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Queen’s and a member of the Kingston Coalition for Active Transportation (KCAT), presented the School Street and Play Street pilot program to council Tuesday night.
“There’s a growing base of evidence that children are engaging in much less outdoor free play than they used to, certainly compared to previous generations,” Collins said.
“Similarly that fewer and fewer kids are using active modes of travel to get to school, and both of these issues are tied to limited independent mobility among children.”
Collins says road closures proposed in the pilot project would allow for more outdoor play and more independent and active modes of travel that she says children are sorely lacking, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the school street portion of the pilot project, she and the coalition proposed to close streets near Winston Churchill Public School on school days from Sept. 7, 2021 to June 29, 2022 from 8:40 a.m. to 9:10 a.m. and 3:20 p.m. to 3:50 p.m.
This would include the closure of MacDonnell Street from Earl Street to Union Street and Hill Street from Napier Street to MacDonnell.
Coun. Wayne Hill asked if closing streets around a downtown school like Winston Churchill might cause worse congestion than there already is during drop-off and pickup times.
“I just worry it’s going to make it worse on one street than on another street,” he said.
Collins says the program would disperse vehicle drop-offs and pickups to streets other than those around the school’s entrance. She says the encouragement to have children either walk or bike to school will also help with congestion.
The closures will be implemented by KCAT, with the support of the Boys and Girls Club. Collins says the initiative also has strong support from Winston Churchill’s principal.
For the Play Street portion of the pilot program, they proposed to close Cheryl Place in the Greenwood Park area twice a week from Sept. 7, 2021 to Aug. 26, 2022 between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. every Tuesday and between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. every Saturday.
This would allow children to have free play outside on the street in a place close to where they live, Collins told council members.
The Play Street portion of the program is being spearheaded by two Greenwood Park residents, Jeff Oke and Tony Clarke, with help from KCAT and the Boys and Girls Club. Oke was one of about six applicants for the neighbourhood portion of the pilot program.
Collins says her role will primarily be to gather data from the two initiatives by surveying parents, children and residents to get feedback, monitoring traffic issues and how the closed streets work in practice. Through her research capacities at Queen’s, she’s been able to secure about $500,000 in funding to research initiatives like these, in conjunction with a team based out of Montreal.
“We want to gather the evidence to figure out what worked well, what didn’t work so well, what needs to be adjusted so this could be implemented elsewhere,” Collins said.
As part of the application approval process, council gave the city’s director of transportation services the ability to modify or suspend any aspect of the initiative if there are issues with safety, operations, maintenance or capital projects.