Only 1% of children’s journeys to school are currently made by bike in London, although many more children and young people would like to ride. Our national child obesity levels are among the highest in Europe, and many of London's children have relatively little play space at home. The proportion of children cycling to school in London has fallen, even as rates of cycling to work have risen. Unless we do something about this; the Mayor's Vision for Cycling warns; we risk a generation growing up a stranger to cycling. We are trapped in a vicious circle in which parents, unwilling to allow their children to cycle, prefer to load them into a car and drive them to school. The motorised school run is a major contributor to congestion, making walking and cycling less pleasant and further encouraging parents to drive children to school.
But there is an alternative future for our children. They want to cycle. Children are actually more positive about walking and cycling than adults. Cycling and walking to school are good for children's physical and mental health; less driving on the school run will make the streets safer and nicer for all. By creating safe routes, we can ensure current and future generations of children have the freedom to choose to cycle to school. Parents will benefit if they wish be able to enjoy cycling with their children in pleasant and safe environments.
Benefits of Cycling to School
According to the NHS Information Centre, rates of obesity amongst children have been increasing steadily, with the highest rates of increase found in London. The causes are complex, but physical inactivity is an important factor. Increasing opportunities for exercise within the normal routines of daily life, as with regular cycling to school, is a cost effective measure to include in a programme to tackle child obesity.
There will be longer term benefits from enabling cycling to school. Danish research has found that cycling to school improved children's cardio-vascular risk profiles, potentially meaning they are less likely to suffer from heart disease in adulthood. It may even benefit academic achievement: participation in physical activity is positively related to academic achievement in children.
If we create good cycling environments for children, we improve their health, their school experience and their future prospects. Targeted investment in safe routes to school will encourage parents to let their children cycle to school, restoring their health and independence, and helping them achieve their academic potential.
What might this mean at ward level?
In partnership with your local school, identifying barriers to safe cycling and proposing measures to address these, such as:
•Managing parking effectively and enforcing parking restrictions around schools, to reduce motor traffic danger.
•Closing "rat runs" to through motor traffic, turning them into quiet streets.
•Installing suitable safe crossing places on desire lines to schools that cross busier roads. Often a safe crossing immediately outside a school gate provides benefits to as many as half the children in the school.
•Identifying at least one safe route to every school, publicising it and assisting families in using it.