Cycle your children to school: it’s safer and quicker

By Ian Callaghan

Aged 10 – having passed my cycling proficiency test and in possession of the ‘triangle of trust’ – I was allowed to cycle to school. Today most parents would worry about letting their children cycle to school on their own as it’s not considered safe. 

However, once my children started school, I became frustrated by the amount of time the school run took. I wanted a better solution for us, especially with our current air pollution and climate crisis. So: what was the safest and quickest way to get my children to school?

As a committed cyclist I knew the fastest way around Oxford is by bicycle; now confirmed in Connecting Oxfordshire. The safest way, however, is slightly more in question. 

By billion km travelled, the car appears safer than the bike, but a straightforward comparison does not tell the whole story, since long-distance car journeys take place on the safest roads: motorways.  In addition, normal cars are safer than unstable SUVs (a fact absent in car ads), and public transport is safer still (trains marginally safer than buses). Walking is good for your health, but cycling is even better for lung health, with the lowest intake of particulates/km (for PM 2.5m). It is also safer per mile than walking, and safer still in greater numbers.

So, cycling to school it was then! But what about close-passing cars (<1.5m) and wobbly children? 

I witnessed first-hand a class outing in the Netherlands: a primary school peloton protected by a teacher up front and another at the back. A cycle bus! It’s the way forward, I thought. So, inspired by another parent who had begun a cycle bus to Windmill School (in conjunction with Sustrans’ Big Pedal), we started a second cycle bus that would cover the eastern part of Windmill’s catchment.  

The initial Windmill cycle bus was formed by parents who were trying to cycle the school run and then onto work in small, wobbly groups of twos and threes. Instinctively, these parents thought to form a protective group and work with others to supervise the children. They agreed to try a dummy run one weekend to work out timings: it turned out that a projected ten-minute journey only took two!

Once up and cycling, the cycle buses now attract new members regularly, including cycle converts, and even those with complicated schedules. Children have pressured their parents to join, as they have witnessed the cycling confidence their bike-bussing friends. An added bonus is the social benefit of having a conversation on your commute and the chance to make new friends. 

We text to let others know if we are delayed, or won’t make the rendezvous, and we have different meeting points where we can wait if the weather is bad. There’s no need to use a car as a coat!

The bike bus has even meant my children get out of the house on time, as they don’t want to miss it! As a parent, it’s a bonus that it’s healthy, prompt and safe.

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