Pleasant progress on safe travel

View Larger MapThis street view shows one of the hilly intersections found in the Mt Pleasant neighbourhood.

October 23 2014. Mt Pleasant School students and parents are taking action on safe school travel. They’ve even voiced their concerns on prime time TV.

Travel plans are meant to generate action in a school community and a high tempo of events was the result at Mt Pleasant School in Christchurch.

The school’s travel plan working group created a week of events to capture community interest when the plan was launched in June. The week included a campaign by students and parents to lower vehicle speeds outside the school.

The message was picked up by the Campbell Live TV current affairs show, which ran a story. Now the school community is working to keep up momentum on all fronts. There are early indications of progress.

For example, Christchurch City Council community education coordinator Sarah Cooper says the school is now a top priority for a 40 km/h speed zone and flashing speed limit signs, likely to be established in the coming year.

“The school’s working group is continuing with all the actions in their plan and keeping up the communications with parents,” says Sarah.

“They’re trying hard to build the culture in the school as well – and the children own that work, as well as the parents.”

Principal Chris Nord says road safety has always been a concern for the school’s parents.

“The great thing is, they see they also play a big part in finding a solution to this challenge.

“What we have initiated with the Christchurch City Council is a comprehensive plan that, should we achieve all the planned actions, will make it safer to walk, run, bike or drive around our local and wider community.”

Parental involvement

In late 2013, parents answered a survey about travel modes and concerns. The online format was well-received and 160 responses came back.

Parents identified traffic congestion on two main roads as a concern but large numbers expressed interest in helping a walking school bus scheme. Already, walking to school is a strong second behind the family car for how students travel.

Parents also said safer places were needed to cross some roads, something highlighted by the TV coverage, where families showed the difficulty of crossing a winding hill road with a blind corner.

“The corner of Billy's Track and Mount Pleasant Road is dangerous – the cars come up and down very fast and you can’t see them until the last minute,” wrote one parent in the survey.

The council and school published a report summarising survey responses and possible actions to take. A working group formed, and the majority of the 12 members were parents.

That may reflect a strong community feel in the area, says Sarah. The geography of Mt Pleasant creates a distinct locality, with the school right on the hilltop. Residents have an ethos of looking out for each other, something only strengthened since the earthquakes.

Parents in the working group contributed to a number of activities, including the sites for drop-off zones spread around the local streets in order to relieve congestion around the school gates.

They also had a hand in a campaign to encourage drivers to voluntarily drive slower until a new speed zone could be approved.

The campaign was called “Over the hill @ 40 – time to slow down”. Bright orange t-shirts in adult and child sizes were printed with the message. Media attention was sought, and achieved.

Working group member Roy Montgomery told Campbell Live the campaign was “guerrilla urban planning”.

Student involvement

Students also completed a survey late last year. They were asked how they travelled to and from school, and how they would like to travel.

The second question showed there was demand for more walking and cycling.

Students marked their homes and routes to school on a map. Each class then went for a walk in the neighbourhood so students could identify hazards – anything tricky or unsafe that could prevent them from walking or riding to school.

Students also became involved in the campaign to lower speeds, painting small 40 or 30 km/h speed signs on plastic plates, which they poked into the roadside to get the attention of locals.

Some students put their oral language skills to the fore when interviewed for television.

“Sometimes it’s not very safe when kids are crossing the road, when they have to make a quick decision whether to cross or not,” a student, Georgia, told the TV3 reporter.

Students spent time with police officers on customised lessons, and took part in the council’s cycle safe programme.

Chris Nord says the school has integrated concepts of personal safety and risk-management in its learner profile, a description of student attributes which supports the curriculum.

“These will become a regular part of the language we use when ensuring our students understand the challenges and act responsible as they travel around the community.”

Mt Pleasant pupils take a stand against speeding drivers (TV3 Campbell Live video clip)

Mt Pleasant School travel plan data and analysis (PDF, 413 KB)