As we reported previously, our analysis of the borough’s school travel plans showed that while many children would like to come to school by bicycle very few chose to do so with some schools actively discouraging it.
It’s interesting therefore to read these statistics from the DfT Cycling to School Report (PDF) which show just how depressingly low the rates are:
DfT School Cycle Rates 06 - 11: Click to view full report
Contrast this to the rest of the world and you can see we have a long way to go:
Why are things so different? Well watch these two videos and see which country you would be more likely to allow your children to cycle to school in and also which country has cycle infrastructure that is appropriate for all levels, not the ‘Dual Provision’ nonsense that we have in the UK (see Motion 5 for LCC’s stance on this).
Clarendon school has been running a bicycle maintenance scheme since September 2010, teaching young people with Special Educational Needs (SEN), to refurbish second hand bikes. One hundred percent of profits from the resale of these bikes are reinvested into providing additional opportunities for young people with SEN. Students gain an AQA Unit Award in Cycle Mechanics as part of their experience.
A new school year has begun – and anyone who has been out on the roads this week will have noticed the rise in traffic. For many kids, the new year means a new school. Amongst the nerves, the fussing over the new uniform, the worries about making new friends; there’s the big question of travel – how can my child get to the new school safely?
Some may be thinking of cycling to the new school – if that’s you then check out our cycle route planner – CycleStreets- at http://richmond.cyclestreets.net (there’s also an app too for iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows mobile devices). All the schools in the borough are now on CycleStreets, as are most of those in the surrounding boroughs. This means you can just search for the school by its name, pop in your home post code as the start point, and CycleStreets will give you a choice of three routes: “Fast” (which will tend to use the main roads); “Quiet” (which will seek to use quiet streets and segregated paths wherever possible) and “Balanced” (which is mid way between the two). The routing logic takes into account many data sources and generally comes up with pretty good routes. The “Quiet” routes are particularly good – I have been cycling round this area for nearly 20 years and think I know all the back-routes; but am still often surprised and impressed by the quiet routes that CycleStreets suggests.
CycleStreets queit route to Orleans Park School
Richmond has a wealth of pleasant leisure routes; but all too often potential quiet routes to places people really want to get to – such as schools – are cut off by busy roads with poor or no provision for cycling, turning a journey that should be simple into a stressful, unpleasant and inconvenient experience. We think this is one of the main blockers to increasing cycling rates in the borough. We are cataloging them on CycleScape – at http://richmondlcc.cyclescape.org/ - and you can too. So if there is particular road or junction that stops you choosing to cycle to school – please take a moment to map it on there and add it to our knowledge base. Alternatively just let us know via our website or on twitter - @RichmondCycling.
As a parent, letting a child out on our streets on a bike is not an easy decision, and for many the lack of subjective safety is enough to stop kids cycling to school. This is evidenced in school travel plans – for example at the Richmond primary school my children attend, a whole school travel survey found that 23% of kids arrived by car and 7.5% by bike; but when asked how they would LIKE to come to school only only 16% answered “by car” – and 25% said they wanted to cycle.
David Hembrow’s recent analysis of TFL travel data suggests that London households with children make up to 60% more trips per day by car than the average household – which goes a long way to explaining that big rise in term-time traffic; and will resonate with many local parents who are shuttling their charges from schools to all those after-school clubs and then back home again. But is this lifestyle providing a subtle cocoon around our children, that stunts the growth of their independence and turns them into couch potatoes? On a recent holiday to Norway I was struck with how kids as young as 6 and 7 took themselves to school; many by bicycle – and it’s a similar story in Holland, Sweden, Denmark and Finland – all of which sit at the top of the international index for Childhood Wellbeing and all of which also have high cycling rates.
It doesn’t have to be this way in the UK. Many other cities around the world are waking up to the benefits of providing better cycling infrastructure; and are implementing improvements. Meanwhile, many fine words are being spoken in Parliament, the London Assembly and elsewhere about how we should improve things – and in places such as Brighton, Camden, and Bristol, some progress is being made on the ground.
For the London Borough of Richmond, the latest steps forward are pinned to the council’s “mini-holland” bid - which has made it through to the next round of the bid process. However, the bid as it stands is woefully short on detail of how it might make everyday cycling – like the school run – appealing to the parents of Richmond borough; and we think it needs significant work in this area.
This year, Richmond Cycling Campaign will be looking at, amongst other things, cycling to school. It’s our belief that every child, at primary school, secondary school, and college, has the right to cycle safely there without either children or parents having to worry about whether they’re going to get there safely. Very much, in fact, like they do in the Netherlands – have a look at the video on David Hembrow’s post on the subject.
We know from endless studies and a whole range of recent reports that cycling is good for, at an individual and social level, and that it even helps children start the day well:
Mum and son (c) European Cycling Federation @ Flickr
And you can read an excellent article about what Richmond Cycling Campaign is already doing to help kids learn to cycle, here. (The author finishes her article: “Taking space away from cars to build a safe, separate infrastructure for bikes is no longer just fighting talk: it makes good planning sense. And the place to start is at the school gate.”)
Not that cycling is inherently a dangerous thing to do. Statistically, choosing to cycle – both for children and their parents – is a very wise choice, because the benefits so easily and quantifiably outweigh the risks.
However, we also recognise three very important factors:
1. The greatest barrier to getting more people cycling is their perception of danger from having to cycle with motorised traffic.
2. Countries where cycling is an easy, often-selected choice for children and adults all have decent cycle infrastructute to support such a decision.
3. We know a lot of people – especially children – *want* to cycle.
So this campaign has two key themes: asking the council and TfL to better support cycling to school by providing safe, inviting, well-designed facilities and designing for it; and asking children and parents how we can help them to use their bikes more.
Family cycling - cc by European Cycling Federation @ Flickr
And it’s really important to provide these facilities, and to make them good. Countries that have lots of cycling all provide safe, inviting places to cycle, and they don’t ask you to get off your bike at every road junction. The facilities that we want for schools should be usable by everyone, and should benefit everyone – even non-cyclists will appreciate not having to trip over bikes on the pavement, or weave round them on the road.
But how can you help? We want you to share your experiences, as parents, children, school staff or carers, on getting to and from school, and the reason you do or don’t cycle. We’ll be sharing these experiences as blog posts throughout the year, as well as looking at the resuiting data.
You can also talk to your friends at school and college: why don’t they choose to cycle? What would help change their mind?
Want to know more? Want to help? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org