School Streets

Cities are redesigning their streets to make them safer and healthier for children, particularly streets that surround schools. There are various strategies, such as temporary street closures to allow for safer school entry and exit, while other interventions are more ambitious and consist of permanent street re-designs that reallocate space to pedestrians, bicycles or play areas. In Barcelona, the program to protect schools is called Protegim les Escoles, which began in 2020 with 26 schools. The program entails a combination of strategies such as lane closures, new play elements, vegetation, public seating, signage, street paint, parking removal and sidewalk extensions. The interventions at each school were based on the particular conditions at each site.  

In collaboration with the program managers and research colleagues at ISGlobal, we are evaluating a subset of schools in the Protegim program that implemented traffic-calming measures aimed at reducing vehicular traffic in front of the school. We want to learn how the traffic-calming measure is changing the use of public space and air quality.  

Improvements in Public Space 

A fundamental question in the study of public space concerns who uses it by gender and age, and during which periods. The total number of individuals in a public space may be seen as an indicator of the quality of the space and may suggest if the space is used for socialization or to strengthen social relations. Use patterns by age and gender are also relevant. Often public spaces exclude women, children and infants, or the elderly. At the same time, the use of a public space by children and the elderly are an indicator that the space is safe and healthy.  

As a result of the street calming measure, we would like to learn: What are the changes in use of public space?  How do the changes in public use differ by age and gender? Are there changes in the spatial patterns of congregation and socialization?  Are there changes in pedestrian foot traffic?  Do the street calming efforts create more playable spaces? Do we observe more children playing?  What are the marginal changes when comparing full street closure with street calming? What is the cost effectiveness of street closure in comparison to street calming? What is the estimated reduction in vehicular traffic as a result of the street calming effort? And finally, how do our observed counts compare with the traffic model estimates? 

Improvements in Air Quality 

Motorized vehicular traffic is a major contributor to poor air quality in most urban areas, often leading to incompliance with international air quality directives, and premature mortality and morbidity. Poor air quality is particularly damaging to vulnerable populations including children, who may suffer from impaired cognitive development and learning if their school is located in a high pollution area. In response, cities are developing traffic calming measures to reduce motorized vehicle traffic in streets nearby schools. Urban re-designs that reduce vehicular parking, reduce speed limits or eliminate traffic entirely may improve air quality, safety, and encourage active modes of transportation. However the extent to which these initiatives may improve air quality at the street scales is unknown. This research project is examining the impacts of 10 street calming projects in Barcelona, Spain. We are collecting air quality (NO2) data pre and post treatment in treatment streets and comparable control sites. Using a fixed effects regression model, we aim to learn if the street calming program produces detectable reductions in NO2 and measurable improvements in air quality. To detect measurable and statistically significant effects, we are likely to need to see large reductions in emissions in order to overcome the problem of our small sample size, plus the uncertainty of our low-cost air quality measurement methods.  Our research aims to make several contributions. First, we aim to document potential impacts of this particular street calming measure in Barcelona. Second, we aim to make methodological contributions regarding the impact evaluation of urban street re-designs and the utility of low-cost air quality sensors. We have collected pre-treatment data in June 2021 and will be collecting post-intervention measurements in June 2022. 

To learn more about the social movement advocating for safer and healthier school streets in Barcelona, visit or follow #RevoltaEscolar.