Lines of parked cars collecting children at school gates are a familiar sight, but one cycling charity hopes to make it a thing of the past after revealing its success in getting pupils out of their parents cars and onto their bikes.
In a major new survey of 50,000 children, the cycling charity Sustrans found that the number of children cycling to school regularly more than doubled when it provided training courses and cycling facilities.
The survey of Sustrans projects at more than 320 primary and secondary schools found 16.2 per cent of children now cycle to school regularly, compared to just 8.2 per cent a year ago. It also found that 39.4 per cent of pupils now admit to cycling to school at least a few times a year.
Campaigners are hailing the news as a success after fears that a series of high-profile cycle deaths may have curtailed the boom in cycling following the 2012 Olympics and Bradley Wiggins' victory in the Tour De France.
“Kids in Britain are bursting to get cycling to school,” said Malcolm Shepherd, the chief executive of the charity. “This survey shows that with a small amount of investment you can expect big changes in the levels of children cycling; which is great news for road congestion, the environment, and importantly will make healthier, happier and more independent kids.”
Work carried out by the charity, which also maintains the country’s network of blue-signed cycle routes, at 2,400 schools nationwide, includes Bike to School weeks, a Big Pedal inter-school cycling race as well as training days, maintenance classes and help for schools to install bike sheds. This is in addition to the standard Bikeability safety training, the course that used to be described as Cycling Proficiency
“These figures are very good news and they provide a burden of proof that children want to cycle and that when invest in the form of cycling skills training, bike sheds and dedicated cycling officers, we can get children on their bikes,” says Claire Frances, head of policy at Sustrans.
However the national figure for schools where Sustrans doesn’t provide assistance is nearer to two per cent, according the charity. This despite that fact the majority of school pupils live less than two miles from their school dates. This compares poorly to 40 years ago when figures from 1971 suggest that as many as 80 per cent of seven and eight years old walked or cycled to school.
Carlton Reid, executive editor of Bike Biz and author of Roads Were Not Built for Car, also raised concerns about cycling policy beyond the school gates.
He said, “Sustrans’ Bike It scheme and Bikeability, cycling proficiency for the 21st Century, can teach kids how to ride safely on roads, but sadly far too many motorists are still caught speeding near schools. A great deal more protective infrastructure is needed near schools, taking road space away from motorists. The public highway is for use by all, not just members of the public in motor cars.”
Case study: The Hirzel family in York
Francis Hirzel might only live a mile away from his primary school on the edge of York, but for the cycling-mad nine-year-old every journey is a preparation for following in the footsteps of his “hero” Sir Bradley Wiggins.
Francis caught the “cycling bug” after Sustrans ran a cycling event at his school and he now pedals every day to Clifton with Rawcliffe School with his mother Deborah, 45, and little sister Madeleine, six, in tow.
“Between March and September our family calendar is filled with weekend cycling events. Even his six-year-old sister has got the bug; they both wanted new bikes for Christmas,” said his mother. “I could not have foreseen that as a family we would become into cycling, and all helped along by the many miles that we have put in cycling to school.”
She added: “It’s his passion and he competes now at weekend, but a big part of it is down to the school providing lots of bike sheds and Sustrans being on hand to encourage him when he started.”
Unlike many children Francis and his sister cycle on the road thanks to their training. “It’s only a mile to school,” said Deborah. “You should see how excited he is about the Tour Du France coming to York next month. He and his classmates can’t wait.”