This blog is part of our healthy travel choices series. Previously, we looked at road safety. Here, we are focusing on how it would give children more freedom.
Having healthy travel options gives people more choice as to how they travel. These options do not mean being forced to travel in a particular way. In fact, it is the opposite. It provides more freedom to everyone.
The benefits of giving children freedom
Currently, lots of children across the country are dependent on adults to take them wherever they want or need to go. Being able to travel around their local area independently could help to develop children’s self confidence, social skills and resilience. It could also make them healthier, both physically and mentally.
The current situation
In 2021, almost 37% of children were driven to school. This not only impacts on their health but makes the journey more dangerous for the children that are walking or cycling there.
The average primary school journey is a distance that could be walked, cycled or scooted. Secondary schools have bigger catchment areas, so public transport and good cycle infrastructure is key to enabling children and young people to travel independently.
Of course, there are some parents who will find it difficult to walk or cycle with their young children to school, and many who will fear for the safety of their children, especially if they have large busy roads to cross. Research by Brake found parents and carers do not walk their children to school because the roads are too busy (36%) and cars go too fast (25%).
So what comes first? People driving less near schools? Or parents and carers choosing to encourage walking or cycling to school despite the roads being full of cars and vans?
There are a number of benefits for the children who can actively travel to school:
- Teachers have found that children who walk, cycle or scoot to school arrive more relaxed, alert and ready to start the day compared to those who are driven.
- For younger children, it provides some quality time with their parents and carers.
- Starting good habits early can help to embed them for life – Young children who walk to school are more likely to continue doing so on their own as they get older.
- It tackles children’s increasingly sedentary lifestyles by incorporating regular exercise into each day
Walking was the main way children under 17 got to school in 2021. Almost 45% of school trips were made this way. This is good, but could be so much better.
Only 3% of all children usually cycle to school in the UK, a figure largely unchanged since 2002. Last year Chris Boardman shone a spotlight on Kesgrave High School, where 900 children cycle to school “because they inherited a 1930s bike lane and built the estate around it rather than over it.”
He highlighted the benefits of this, including less bullying and that the children “attend more after school clubs and sports because the kids have transport independence.”
900 kids ride to Kesgrave High School every day. The impact?
???????? healthier body weight
????????they attend more after school clubs
????????less bullying@Chris_Boardman speaking to @CommonsHealth this morning.
— Transport Action Network (@TransportActio2) July 11, 2023
Just under 8% of children travel to school on a local bus. Bus services have been severely cut over the past decade, reducing children’s independence. Unreliable and reduced rail services also impact on this.
Helping children actively and safely travel to school
A number of initiatives are being carried out throughout the country to help children to travel actively and safely to school.
This is where a road (or roads) outside a school have a timed restriction on motorised traffic around school drop-off and pick-up times, with some local exemptions. School Streets provide additional space outside of the school to provide a safer, healthier and more pleasant environment in which children can arrive and leave.
There are currently more than 500 school streets in London alone, and new schemes are being introduced regularly across the country.
A Mayor of London study found School Streets reduce air pollution by 23% and one in five parents drive less when they are in place.
This is when a number of parents take responsibility for more than their own children walking to school.
Bike buses / trains
A bike bus, or train, is an organised group cycle on a set route with timetabled stops along the way. It makes the group much more visible, and so safer.
“I enjoyed being part of the bike bus because it was fun to cycle all together as a school, and I’ve never cycled on the road before.” – Jai, a pupil at Catherine Junior School, told Sustrans.
If you would like to set up a bike bus in your area, see here.
The Bikeability Trust charity has provided cycle training to more than four million children since 2007. From April 2022 to March April 2023, more than 9,000 primary schools took part in cycle training.
Search for cycle training near you.
Cycle to School Week
Schools and families across the UK were encouraged to take part in Cycle to School Week at the end of September last year. Organised by Bikeability Trust and Sustrans, participants could choose to swap one car journey for cycling or cycle to school every day.
Look out for the dates, information and support for this year’s cycle to school week on the Bikeability Trust’s website.
Let’s give children the start they deserve
Cheap, safe and accessible ways of travelling without a car are essential to give children freedom. Giving them greater independence will increase their confidence, social skills and even their focus at school.
There are also wider benefits, as communities that enable children to safely play outside where they live will be more welcoming for everyone.
The initiatives we have looked at above, such as Bikeability training and school streets, are positive and give hope for a healthy start for future generations. The slow rise of cargo bikes being used by families and the increasing availability of e-cargo bike hire schemes are encouraging. Yet there is only so much that can be achieved without the Government playing its part.
Of course, children’s lives are not just about school, and their ability to travel independently to local parks, shops, libraries, friends’ houses and more is equally important. However, without long term funding for public transport and active travel little is likely to change anytime soon. This will condemn our children and grandchildren to restricted and less fulfilling childhoods, with possible poorer health as an add-on. This is clearly the wrong way to go, yet the current Government is obsessed with the motorist, rather than improving society for everyone.
We are taking legal action against the Government’s cuts to active travel funding. Please support us if you can.
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