Open street campaign in Škofja Loka
In September 2020, Šolska Street (the Šolska ulica street) in Škofja Loka looked different. For five Saturdays the street belonged to the people. Cars were not permitted on the street, making space for pedestrians and cyclists. One could have a pleasant walk between the area of former barracks, a developing new town centre (where food market, youth centre, pump track and skate park, kindergarten etc. found its place) and the old town. During the European mobility week, the street was also open for pedestrians and cyclists in the morning rush hour. Children were able to walk to school feeling safe and comfortable.
The Municipality of Škofja Loka successfully applied to the IPoP – Institute for Spatial Policies’ open call, aiming to implement measures to adapt the traffic to the Covid-19 pandemic. The concept of an Open Street selected as a measure in Škofja Loka was simple: to ensure better conditions for walking and cycling between the area of former barracks and the old town while ensuring safer active travel to school.
Why Šolska Street?
The street primarily provides access for inhabitants, business owners and pupils of Primary School Škofja Loka – mesto, all located on this street. It is also a shortcut for everyone travelling between the old town and former barracks, where an alternative, new town centre is developing.
The traffic count between 8 am and 6 pm in June 2020 showed that over 8.000 people were using the street. Of these, 58.5% were pedestrians, 7.1% cyclists, 33.5% cars and 0.9% others. Nevertheless, pedestrians and cyclists have significantly less space available in comparison to cars.
The most common street users are children on their travel to school and kindergarten children, walking down the street on their daily walk. As car drivers, especially in the upper part of the street, do not respect the speed limit, the street is not safe for the most vulnerable users. The negative health effects of motorized traffic are also most harmful to the children.
With a wish to connect the old and the new centre, the Municipality of Škofja Loka wants to renew Šolska Street in the near future. The analysis made as a part of the municipal sustainable urban mobility plan showed that inhabitants would be willing to walk and cycle on short distances more if the infrastructure would be better. An Open Street campaign aimed at trying different traffic regulation, which favours pedestrians and cyclists and minimizes car traffic.
How did it work?
For five Saturdays in September 2020, Šolska Street was closed for transit traffic and open for people. For half a day, a lively program took place on Šolska Street, inviting the residents of Škofja Loka to participate.
Next to the event visitors, organizers of car-free days were especially happy to see people walking down the middle of the street with vegetables in their baskets on their way from a morning shopping at the market in the former barracks. People were able to stop on the street and chat to those they would otherwise not see have they used the car.
Photo: Andrej TarfilaThe organisation team joined the school principal and his co-worker, when the Open Street campaign was at its peak with Saturday car-free days, with the ambition to try out measures of so-called School Streets, by adopting a car-free morning during the rush hour. Instead of business as usual when the area around the school is packed with cars as parents are dropping off their kids before school, for one week, pupils were able to actively travel to school – alone or with their friends. Those parents, who took their kids to school by car, could drop them off at two temporary Kiss and Ride points, located at both sides of the closed area. That enabled pupils to walk to school for at least 100 meters, which is still better than nothing.
»Of course, we like the idea of not taking the child to the school door, it’s faster for me too,« explained one of the mothers, who brought the child in a car and watched him proudly continue carefree in the company of a friend. She continued that she would probably bring the child to the school door after the end of the project because the street is too dangerous.
Safety concerns are the most common reason for parents to drive their children to school even for short distances. It is paradoxical that parents who bring their children to the school door are the ones who create traffic around the school and a less safe environment for everyone else. One of the questions that arose when implementing School street only for five days in the morning was, if the children will be confused because of this and will run around the middle of the road on the other streets where cars are allowed. Such fear is unfounded. We often underestimate children and their perception of the environment. Encouraging independent travel to school can give them valuable experience, which also makes them active participants in traffic and develop healthy travel habits.
How did it go?
Participation of the main target groups was important in the planning phase of Open Street. We tried to ensure the involvement of the general public, residents of the street, business owners, and everyone connected to the primary school including pupils and parents. During the implementation of the Open Street, we collected responses from all involved through surveys, public discussions and directly at the street information point. It turned out that the vast majority – children and parents, residents of the Šolska Street and the general public liked the temporary arrangement.
81% of the surveyed parents expressed the need to reduce the number of cars in the vicinity of the school and 86% of the parents liked the Open Street. Two-thirds of the inhabitants of Škofja Loka liked the Open Street.
The business owner expressed less of an agreement with the temporary measures. Despite unconvincing support, the owners of the bars joined the other surveyed groups (parents, residents of Šolska ulica and the general public) in agreeing on the question “How should Šolska Street be planned in the future?” with the most common answers:
- The traffic around the school should be organised so that the locations are as accessible as possible for pedestrians and cyclists. Only residents and bar owners should be allowed on the street with a car.
- The safety of people, especially children, needs to be ensured.
»Positive responses to Open Street campaign oblige us to start thinking about the long-term traffic reorganization of Šolska Street.«
Tine Radinja, Mayor of the Municipality of Škofja Loka
The school management and the municipality agreed that the positive responses to the Open Street campaign oblige them to prepare a new proposal for permanent traffic regulation on Šolska Street, which will encourage active travel of pupils, enable conditions for walking and cycling and prevent transit car traffic.
Open street campaign was activity of project LIFE IP CARE4CLIMATE (LIFE17 IPC/SI/000007), which is integrated project, co-financed by EU program LIFE, by Fund for climate change by Slovene Ministry of environment and spatial planning and by project partners funds.