With many children returning to school this week, Sustrans senior policy and political advisor Rachel White reveals what measures we need in place to encourage more kids to make the journey by bike.
One in four cars on the road during the morning peak are doing the school run.
This has a large number of negative effects such as congestion and air pollution. So much so that a joint investigation by Greenpeace and The Guardian found that more than 2,000 primary schools and nurseries are in areas of dangerous air pollution across England and Wales. It also has very negative effects on road safety and parents’ perceptions of safety.
This prevents parents from feeling comfortable about allowing their children to cycle the school journey and …you guessed it…means they drive them instead, further increasing the problem.
Here is a huge missed opportunity – the average primary school journey is just 1.6 miles. A distance that could easily be cycled. Children who cycle and walk to school have been shown to be more alert and ready to learn.
An active journey also helps contribute towards a child’s recommended amount of physical activity which is vitally important when one in five children are obese by the time they leave primary school.
So how can we break the cycle of ever increasing numbers of cars at school drop off and pick up times? Below are a number of things Sustrans has been involved in with schools and local authorities to help increase safety and the number of children getting to school by bike:
- Schools officers: They can increase children’s confidence on bikes and parents’ confidence in allowing their child to ride. Sustrans school’s programme typically doubles the levels of cycling at schools within a year. As a result of the programme, car trips to school fell by 5.2 million in 2016/17, with 91% of those involved saying it had a positive impact on road safety awareness.
- Protected cycle lanes: A network of protected cycle lanes on main roads connected to quiet back streets across our towns and cities is the best way to increase cycling for children and adults alike. 78% of people in Sustrans’ Bike Life Survey want more protected space for cycling even if that means taking space away from other road users.
- School streets: Closing the street directly outside a school at drop-off and pick-up time not only improves air quality but also safety around the school gates for children cycling.
- Filtered permeability: Reducing traffic volumes around residential areas by closing streets to through traffic but allowing people on bikes and pedestrians through increases safety and allows children to more easily cycle from home to school while encountering less traffic.
If these measures were put in place we could really see cycling safety and the number of children getting to school by bike increase.