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Getting to school

Today is the last day of Book Week. Costumed characters made their way to Port Melbourne Primary School, their route made safer by a series of pedestrian crossings installed over time. Streets have been narrowed with kerb extensions. The crossing distance has been reduced, and vehicle speeds lowered.

Elements of a crossing – narrowed streets, raised crossing, buffer to the approaching vehicle

Other students walk or ride to Port Melbourne Primary on the pathways through pleasant Garden City Reserve. Just two crossings of narrow streets to school. Older primary school students walk or scoot to school in small groups, chatting along the way.

The route through the Reserve must give the students’ parents sufficient confidence that their children can make their way to school independently.

Most of South Melbourne Primary School students come from Southbank and Docklands. When the school was created, the City Rd tram stop was remade to enable students to go straight from the tram into the school grounds, without crossing any roads at all. But not all students come to school by tram. Some approach along City Rd. The school crossing supervisor is very busy in the lead up to the school bell at 9 am. He keeps left turning vehicles into Whiteman St at bay with an assertive hand. His high viz uniform and whistle are essential. Nevertheless, he greets the children with care, by name, and wishes them a good day.

Elements of a safe crossing. Shepherding families through the crossing – Whiteman x City Rd with care

Some students from Yarra’s Edge in Docklands access the School through the DFO carpark and across Normanby Rd. The bike route through the carpark is convoluted and requires considerable dexterity to navigate. Good practice bike paths have gentle curves and good visibility. This route is sharp angles and low visibility. The undercroft is also very noisy from the heavy traffic on the M1 overhead.

Going home through the DFO carpark

The contrast between the approaches to Port Melbourne Primary and South Melbourne Primary school is stark.

Over many years, the City of Port Phillip has been adding to the network of safer crossings on the approaches to Port Melbourne Primary School. Kerb extensions, raingardens, narrowed streets and raised pedestrian crossings, have made it safer to walk or ride to school.

South Melbourne Primary School is caught between the City of Port Phillip and the City of Melbourne with the M1 motorway in between. Making improvements in these in between places is difficult. Instead of the approaches to the School being in the hands of one local government, it falls between them. The route also involves a carpark on private land. There is no attention to overall coordination to the access and approaches to the school.

The building of South Melbourne Primary School was an extraordinary achievement. The flourishing of the School is an even greater achievement. But further work needs to be done on every approach to the school to create an environment for learning that extends beyond the school gates.

Book Week is not only about books. It’s about the importance of storytelling.

The stories of Montague, told and re-told, are about how children played on the streets, not going in until called for tea. Now Montague’s streets are dominated by through traffic and carparking.

It’s time to bring the storyteller’s imagination to transforming streets to make access to school by walking and riding safe, pleasant and companionable.

Enabling children to walk and ride to school improves their physical and social health. Supporting independent mobility increases their self confidence. With concerns globally about decreased physical activity in young people, especially adolescents and girls, making routes to schools the very best they can be for walking and cycling is a no brainer.

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