A Kamloops pediatrician has approached the Kamloops-Thompson school board about creating car-free zones around schools to encourage more people in the B.C. Interior city to use their feet instead of a gas pedal.
Dr. Trent Smith told CBC Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce that car-free zones around schools would alleviate safety concerns related to traffic congestion, and would also cut down on vehicle emissions in these areas.
But, in Smith's view, the most important part of the idea relates to decreasing levels of physical activity among children, and a way to improve that situation.
Smith said children are not getting enough physical activity, and car-free zones around schools would be one way to "encourage that physical activity in a more automated way, rather than trying to plan it all the time."
Smith proposed car-free zones as a pilot project when he spoke in front of the Kamloops-Thompson Board of Education at its public meeting on Nov. 14.
The board told CBC the matter will be discussed at its next in-camera meeting.
Living nearby doesn't mean walking to school: doctor
Smith said driving kids to school has become a cultural norm.
In his own clinic, he said he often asks families how their children get to school. Many families tell him that even though they live within a few blocks of the schoolyard, they typically jump in the car instead of lacing up a pair of shoes or boots.
In Kamloops, Smith said he'd like to see families that live close to schools "go back in time a little bit" to when children used to regularly walk or ride their bikes to school.
For families that live farther away and drive their children, he proposes creating drop-off zones from which children could walk the rest of the way.
"It would be great to have drop-off occur in a larger zone away from the school and have children be able to walk that extra distance, maybe in the company of their parents [to] get parents out of cars and a little more engaged with the school community and each other," Smith said.
When it comes to increasing physical activity for kids, Smith said every little bit helps.
"I think this is in no way going to solve all of our physical activity problems," he said. "It's one small piece and hopefully it does something to improve air quality."
In addition, Smith said research in other communities has shown that car-free zones have encouraged some families to shift their transportation habits permanently.
Elementary school in Surrey looking at car-free zone
The idea of car-free zones around schools is also being considered in Surrey. Specifically, it's about to be tested at Lena Shaw Elementary School.
"Our district hasn't piloted this program yet but we are in the planning stages," said Ritinder Matthew, associate director of communications for the Surrey school district. "Our plan is, in partnership with the City, to implement this program after the winter break."
Matthew said the parent advisory committee at Lena Shaw Elementary "is in full agreement and very eager to move forward with this initiative."
The school is located in a residential area just off 100 Avenue.
Back in Kamloops, Smith said car-free zones for schools would have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
"Clearly, schools that are located in the midst of a large thoroughfare, those thoroughfares aren't going to be closed so it would be a matter of looking at specific schools," he said.
Smith said he's on the lookout for schools and parents interested in trying car-free zones.
"So that's an ongoing discussion right now with the school district and the City and my hope is that we have a couple of schools identified by early 2023," he said.