School Run Woes


There has been much talk recently of cyclists' ‘Right to the Road’. It is a term often bandied around whenever there is mention of separating cycle traffic from motorised traffic. I am purposely avoiding the term 'segregated' after a discussion with someone who drew parallels with apartheid. I suppose some might think that keeping cyclists to a certain part of the road might make them a second class citizen, but given the choice, I know which I would prefer.

There has also been discussion about training being the paradigm of cycle safety. If you apply both of these sets of logic, why not do away with the footpaths and start asking pedestrians to reclaim their right to the road and offer them costly training so they can dodge buses and lorries?

I know I should, but in all honesty I could not care less about the rights of the 2.2% of people who currently use their bikes to get around.  And I count myself in that small figure, as a club cyclist (and potential lycra lout). I am, as a parent, more concerned with the environment my children live in. We have a choice; we are empowered as decision makers and voters. They are the ones who live in the environment we, as adults, create for them.

My oldest son is nearly 8. We live in the house I grew up in, he plays in the park I used to and he attends my old primary school.  But we have very different experiences.

When I went to school (as he says, ‘When it was black and white?’ I am not that old) I walked or cycled.  The car just didn’t feature on the school run.  In fact I don’t ever remember it being referred to as a school ‘run’.  Maybe this is a sign of the rushed existence we have created for ourselves?  Now we are one of the small percentage of parents that walk or cycle.  The rest is made up of angry looking, stressed people in cars.

The use of the car on the school run has doubled in the last twenty years.  It causes congestion and dangerous conditions around every school, and clogs up the road network for all other users, cyclists included.

The figures made me quite sad to be honest.  From the Department of Transports National Travel Survey, journeys made taking children to school consisted of car 48%, foot 38%, bus 11%, rail 2% and cycling 1%.  (I am intrigued by the remaining 3%.  I am imagining mystical ways of getting to school that this 3% have found.)

When he first started school we cycled nearly every day.  Then the Headteacher of my son’s school decided to ban cycling.  It reminded me of this. 11-year-old Sam O’Shea was banned from riding to his school in Portsmouth. Staff at St Paul’s Primary School cited a lack of storage space and dangerous roads around the school as the reason for their stance. 

This was the exact same reason my sons school gave.

The one difference was Sam’s journey was mainly along cycle paths.     

Sam’s mum fought despite constant rebuttals from the school.  I believe they were just treading water until he left the school.  The family moved out to the Middle East and now he is about to be the youngest competitor ever in Abu Dhabi triathlon!

I focused my mind on the fact we are really missing a trick here.  There are so many children missing out on activity we are doing a real disservice to our talent pool for the future of British Sport.  Come on people! THINK OF THE MEDALS if nothing else!!!!

The pictures show our main routes into school.  We don’t have any cycle paths.  No. What we have are two extremely wide roads, not the often-touted claim that British roads are too narrow for decent cycling infrastructure. If we were in Liverpool they would be rather glamorously-titled Boulevards.

They are 30mph roads on which nobody ever drives at 30.  In fact most motorists are surprised by the fact such wide straight roads are 30mph.  They have large pavements and grass verges which as you can see accommodate people with extra parking at the tax payers’ expense, although they have extensive driveways.

The road is wonderfully wide to accommodate the motorised traffic, of which 85% has only one person in the car. And let’s not forget that two thirds of all journeys are less than 5 miles and a fifth less than 1 mile [pdf]. 

These roads are a route for my sons and a neighbouring Primary School. Both of which have approximately 400 pupils on the roll. 

The road is also bordered by an ex-council-owned estate which still has a legacy of unemployment and a high proportion of families for whom car ownership is out of the question.  This is where a well-placed cycle path, separated from the traffic could come into its own. According to a study from the Political Economy Research Institute in Amherst, Massachusetts, researchers found that "bicycling infrastructure creates the most jobs for a given level of spending." For every $1 million spent, cycling projects created an average of 11.4 jobs in the state where the project was located, pedestrian-only projects created about 10 jobs, and multi-use trails created about 9.6 jobs. Infrastructure combining road construction with pedestrian and bicycle facilities created slightly fewer jobs for the same amount of spending, and road-only projects created the least, with a total of 7.8 jobs per $1 million.

Sadly there doesn’t seem to be the political will for changing anything. In spite of all of the evidence that it will create jobs, improve the environment, speed up journey times, stop your children being fat, raise academic success at the schools... I could go on and on. In spite of all of this, we are stuck with local governments terrified to spend any money. I have high hopes for the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group Inquiry which is being held at present, but I won’t hold my breath anything will change soon.

I wonder if this is the legacy people want to leave their children.  A place to live that is being slowly choked to death by selfish car ownership? A place where we throw money into transporting 15 stone people around each with their own separate 2 ton metal wheelchair, all travelling incredibly short distances and taking up vital space in our towns and cities with their demands for parking?

There is only one thing for it.

I am going to start my own school bus.  Where can I get one of these and a conductor’s hat?



Your street looks very similar to Mollison Way about which the Vole has blogged but there seem to be more cars on our patch!

Mrs. Vole,

I believe appeals to the hip-pocket and quality of life would be more successful than those for gold medals - and that's my sentiment from here in Australia where we need more of the latter thanks to GB! I'd like to throw in the health benefits too as a selling point but I've found that most people don't like to be preached to about this, so IMO this is something they can discover for themselves once they've been cycling for a while.

I was going to say that the 3% of trips not made could represent those students having a day off sick or on the wag (ah, the good old days) but then I checked the numbers and they add to 100%.

I really like the post. My son is 16 and has only two years of high school left. I think he has only cycled on one day and that was in primary school. However we are fortunate to be able to move house soon and my hope is that he will take the opportunity to cycle to school as it suits his needs, because most of the route will be on off-road paths and quiet local streets which isn't the case right now.

Not sure how I'd react o this one, probably buy some good locks and secure my lads bike to the guard rail outside the school gates. Towns are in theory promoting cycling in schools with LSTF money, so there is a line of attack open that no doubt you are already on the case with. 20mph, removing the centre hatching and any centre lines, cycle lanes either side, then upgrade to cycle tracks as part of a long term parking / street scheme. All can be done and some of it quite quickly. Just needs a bit of political will

These interviews with some welsh people comparing the status quo with their own childhoods are well worth a watch, although it's a little depressing.

It's like we've rolled over and given up on having neighbourhoods where our kids can play, or streets where we can walk and cycle in safety, just so we can drive and park anywhere and everywhere.  As one of the YouTube commenters asks, "where is the outrage?".

Providing proper cycling space is not that hard.... If the authorities wanted to do it.... they would have done it... Meet and greet car parking Birmingham