Tehran, the capital city of Iran, is a large city with a population of over 10,000,000, and for this reason, has always suffered from traffic congestion and air pollution. Air pollution is an environmental and health issue high on the agenda in Tehran. As such, improving air quality is the main concern for citizens and urban planners when making decisions regarding future growth and development of this city.
Approximately 71% of Tehran’s air pollution comes from traffic. The school run accounts for 10.5% of daily trips in Tehran and over half of these are made in personal cars. In the last five years, the level of air pollution has reached such dangerous levels that the Tehran officials have had to close primary schools and impose traffic restrictions (source: Tehran Traffic and Transportation Organization, 2006).
In addition, more than 40% of those injured in car accidents are pedestrians, 15.1% of which are under the age of 10.
That's why, since the year 2000, the Municipality of Tehran, with the co-operation of Tehran Traffic and Transportation Organization, Tehran City Council and the Ministry of Education, has decided to educate primary school aged children to change their commuting patterns, encourage them to walk to and from school as well as teach them general traffic safety rules.
To address the aforementioned issues, Tehran designed the following key policies:
• Developing “Neighbourhood Oriented Primary Schools” by imposing restrictions on state schools to enrol students who live within walking distance, a 500m radius to be precise, from the school
• Educating children at school about traffic safety
• Improving the immediate environment around the state primary schools (i.e. installing traffic signs & speed bumps)
The first point was enforced in the following way:
- State primary schools in Tehran have to enrol students who live within a reasonable walking distance from the school based on their home address. However, students who do not live in this catchment area but have parents who work in that area can also go to that specific school. These policies aim to decrease the distance between home and school. The radius of the catchment area depends on the size and number of students in that particular primary school. All of this is clearly laid out by the Department of Education in each district of Tehran, who take into consideration distance that children are able to walk without getting tired.
- School buses are not to be provided for state schools in order to encourage children to walk instead.
- However, no rules are imposed on private schools; they are free to make their own rules and regulations regarding this subject.
1. Establishing Traffic Education Parks
Since 1989, a series of counseling sessions and traffic safety lessons for traffic violators, known as an educational traffic park, have been used in the following countries to also educate children in traffic safety in a safe and practical traffic environment: Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Germany, France, UK, Russia, Portugal, Spain, Japan, Finland, Singapore, the Netherlands, India and China. Children can go there in groups and learn how to behave on the streets under the trainer’s supervision. The aim of establishing these parks is to improve children’s performance in a real traffic environment in a fun way.
In the 1990s, a committee of City governance in Tehran visited some of these countries and was inspired by the concept.
In 2002, the first traffic education park was established in Tehran. It covers an area of 3.5 hectares and is based in the north-west part of the city. Sessions need to be booked by the schools’ principals if they wish to enrol their students. They can go on weekdays during school hours to learn about traffic safety in a semi real traffic environment. This park has a variety of educational traffic safety programs including performers showing how traffic signs and regulations work, and on-site training to learn how to behave in and around traffic. Children over the age of 9 are allowed to drive small cars, which helps both drivers and pedestrians be aware of traffic as well as have fun.
2. Educating Children on traffic safety at schools
City officials of the Municipality of Tehran and Tehran Traffic and Transportation Organization attempted to find a more practical way of educating large numbers of children about traffic safety in a short period of time.
Since 2007, Tehran Traffic and Transportation Organization have tried, in cooperation with the Department of Education and the Police Force, to improve children’s commute to and from school by educating them on traffic safety and making the immediate environment around schools safer and more pedestrian-friendly through the following programs:
• Educating children on traffic safety by having police officers visit schools and award special cards called “Police Assistant Cards” to participants of the program. Children are encouraged to ask their parents to drive at a lower speed and to give more priority to pedestrians.
• Enforcing speed bumps, pedestrian crossings and warning signs in front of main school entrance gates.
• Selecting lollipop people among older students who have been educated by the visiting police officers, to help children cross the roads safely before and after school.
Developing this concept is a good idea as it mixes education with fun. However, one park is not enough to meet demand: some schools have had to wait years to make a reservation! As such, some primary school students have never had a chance to attend. Of course, constructing more parks means time and money. Luckily, with the help of the Municipality of Tehran, the Tehran City Council and the municipality of each distract, the Tehran Traffic and Transportation Organization has been able to raise the funds to build a park in each district.
- Currently 10 out of 22 districts in Tehran have a traffic education park. They provide a variety of educational programs for children (aged 5 to 14) and it takes 45 hours altogether to complete it. City officials predict that all districts in Tehran will have a traffic education park by 2015.
- This program is not limited to just Tehran: municipalities of other cities all over Iran have also applied for government funding to establish traffic educational parks in their city. Design has already started in the following cities: Karaj, Shiraz, Arak, Isfahan, Urmiyeh and Hamedan.
The program run by police officers unfortunately failed after 2 years due to a lack of available officers. In addition, parents did not feel comfortable allowing their children to be lollipop people, as this could have put them at high risk (Tehran Traffic and Transportation Organization, 2007).
However, the Government has learnt that, even if sustainable approaches are often the best way to address environmental problems, it's essential to first raise awareness about the issue and understand people’s mentality. Indeed, a shift in mental attitudes towards traffic safety cannot happen without first knowing the peoples’ biases towards other forms of transport to know what needs to be tackled in order to break current bad habits on the roads.
The City of Tehran has started to use media to educate parents, as well as children, about the benefits of walking to school.
Seeing as educating children on traffic safety needs to be a continuous thing in order for it to be effective (Zeedyk, et al., 2001), the Research Centre of Tehran Traffic and Transportation Organization, in co-operation with the Department of Education, has also attempted to find other ways to educate children on traffic safety, even starting from very early childhood.
- They created educational audio books for children, based on research carried out on children from different age groups. In addition, they designed educational computer games about traffic safety, as another way of getting children familiar with traffic signs and regulation.
- All of the above books and games are available for free on the Tehran Traffic and Transportation Organization’s official website, and all primary schools in Tehran have been informed about these and teachers encouraged to inform students and parents to use these online educational facilities.
- At school, one hour a week is dedicated to educating students on traffic safety using these online facilities in all primary schools and kindergartens.
Author: Roya Shokoohi
Tehran Municipality’s official website: http://en.tehran.ir/
Tehran Traffic and Transportation Organization’s official website: http://trafficorg.tehran.ir/
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