How do we get more people cycling to school?

By Ian Callaghan

Bike to School Week offers a chance to come up with some better answers to some simple questions. Cyclox Trustee, Ian Callaghan, offers some pointers.

Next week is Bike to School Week, from 27 September to 1 October. Launched and promoted by Sustrans, the national charity that works to make it easier for people to walk and cycle, Bike to School Week shines a light on why so many people cycle to school, why so many don’t and what we can do to help people decide to make active travel part of their daily routine.

The answer to the first question is pretty simple. Why do so many people cycle to school? Because it’s quicker, more enjoyable, healthier and more sustainable than just about every other method of getting to school. Most kids will jump at the chance to ride their bikes to school.

So why don’t more kids do it? Generally it comes down to adults, the decisions they take and the environments they create. Top of the list of reasons not to ride is usually safety: there is too much motor traffic travelling too quickly, because for generations our roads have been designed to maximise volume and speed. And because it feels unsafe parents opt to add to the motor traffic by taking their kids to school by car creating even more traffic. Safe routes for cycling are a key part of getting more kids on bikes. What little provision for cycling exists is usually an afterthought; usually an ill-conceived, badly designed, poorly implemented and rarely maintained afterthought. 

The third question concerns what we can do to get more people cycling. We can’t transform Oxfordshire’s transport infrastructure in a week but Bike to School Week can be a start.

If we create decent segregated cycle routes to every school more people will cycle to school. Cherwell School in Oxford does not have the UK’s highest rate of students cycling to school by accident; it is right next to an exemplary bit of cycle infrastructure that carries a huge volume of cyclists throughout the day. 

Politicians and officials are beginning to listen. Politicians take note of the volume of emails they get on a subject. Headteachers are keen to improve the health and safety of their schools by minimising the amount of vehicle traffic nearby. Let your school know you support their efforts to promote active travel. The School Street projects, taking place in a number of primary schools within Oxford, only got off the ground with the support, hard work and enthusiasm of school staff.

If you fancy riding to school talk to people who do it already. Some of them will be school staff – they will be keen to help. Talk to the kids and parents who do cycle to school. Find out how they got started, what they had to do to make it work.  You can also get in touch with the school’s eco-council and ask them what they are doing. Do a practice run at the weekend. Start a bike bus.

Next week a huge number of schools across Oxfordshire will be discussing all these issues in class and in assemblies. In a lot of schools, the students will be leading the discussion, asking why they are not able to ride their bikes to school. As adults, we need to have a better answer than “that’s just the way it is”.

A whole range of Bike to School Week resources for teachers, students and parents are available on the Sustrans website.

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