'You must be mad!' was the frequent response when I was a School Travel Plan Adviser at Hackney Council about six years ago, talking to parents about cycling to school with their kids. ‘Look at the state of the roads!’ they’d say, referring to the lumbering doubledecker buses, careering tipper trucks, zooming mopeds, a myriad of manic cars, and gaggles of older pupils spilling out into the road.
When coupled with today’s anxiety about stranger danger, and the criticism thrown at parents who let their children cycle unaccompanied, it’s no wonder that the numbers of UK pupils cycling to school plummeted in the 70s and 80s.
Sadly, this means that children are transported to school by other modes – particularly by car, the use of which has doubled on the school run during the last 20 years. Childhood obesity has doubled over roughly the same period. In 1995-97 the proportion of cars on the roads between 8 am and 9 am that were ferrying children to school was 10%. By 2009, the National Travel Survey shows it had risen to 21%. Everyone notices the extra traffic in September when the kids go back to school.
Getting schools cycling
It’s not all bad news. As well as Government-run School Travel Plans and the legal requirement for local authorities to have Sustainable Modes of Travel to School (or SMOTs – no, not something that might fly into your eye!), there are now many schemes that are encouraging children and parents to cycle to school. Find out more about them in our handy guide to School Run Cycling.