Back in 2018, one London secondary school hit the headlines around cycling. They were demanding that kids could only cycle to their school if they had a licence plate. Not only was this tarnishing all the kids that cycled to school with the same ‘anti-social’ brush, but it sent a clear message to anyone thinking of starting to cycle to school that cycling’s a problem, and not something to be encouraged.
Unfortunately, this is too often the story when it comes to secondary schools. Primary schools are leaping forward with schemes to encourage walking, cycling and scooting, with ‘School Streets’ proving highly popular and successful. During school drop off and pick up times, the school road is temporarily closed, discouraging driving, pavement parking and idling, and clearing the way for kids and parents to arrive/depart safely at school on foot or on two wheels. The numbers have bloomed in London, with parents, school staff and local councils working together to make the school gate a cleaner, healthier place.
The same cannot be said for secondary schools. Cycling rates drop off during the teenage years, and the majority of kids aged 11 – 16 aren’t getting the levels of physical activity they need to stay healthy, especially girls. There are a huge number of barriers to teenage kids cycling, from access to bikes to social and peer pressures. But there don’t seem to be many secondary schools keen to tackle this issue, going so far as to add to the burden by demonizing cycling and fighting against cycling infrastructure. The light bulb moment – connecting the improved health of the kids, the lowering of lethal levels of air pollution and responding to the climate emergency that primary schools have had, just hasn’t yet happened at the secondary level.
The Covid-19 crisis has added another dimension to the secondary school run. Come September, schools are expected to be accepting 100% of pupils again. But with social distancing in place for the foreseeable, capacity on the public transport network will be reduced. Buses in particular would be swamped, with 1.5m journeys on London buses on a normal weekday made by school children. Even if social distancing rules are relaxed to 1m then bus capacity and teenage kids will not mix well for the foreseeable future.
On top of that, one of the conditions attached to the Governments bailout of TfL earlier this year was to scrap free travel for under-18s. There are likely to be a number of kids now who can’t afford to take the bus to school – even if there was capacity for them to do so. This will cause further hardship for already disadvantaged communities, especially BAME ones.
This isn’t an impossible task. In the Netherlands, 75% of teenagers cycle to school – girls and boys. But it will mean we need a radical re-think of the secondary school run, and everyone will have a part to play.
They need to:
Historically, the focus on segregated cycle corridors has been on commuter trips, but with work patterns changing, and the urgent need to get kids to school, schools need to become key destination points in the cycle network. In the short term, the Mayor needs to repurpose the bus network into safe school corridors. These are key corridors that kids will still need to use to get to school, but they will need to do so safely on bikes. That means:
Longer term, we need to see schools better planned into the emerging cycle network.
We disscussed this and many more of the issues around the secondary school run in our webinar on the 3rd July. To read the write up and watch the recording, head here: https://lcc.org.uk/articles/webinar-round-up-sustainable-school-run