Cycling to school 2016

Cycling To School – 2016

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We are pleased to have this latest guest post from Cycling Dad, Stephen Hart. In 2014, Stephen related the experience of cycling to school in the London Borough of Sutton with his young daughter. Two years later, and he picks up the school-run story……

My daughter lives a couple of miles from her primary school in Carshalton, a journey which from our home, according to Google Maps, takes 7 minutes by car (no traffic), 13 minutes by bus or 9 minutes by bike.  

She has been cycling to school since she was aged five, and is now aged eight. A couple of years ago we used to cycle to school most days, but then a new job meant I was unable to take her by bike.  Right now, I have some time off before starting a new role and once again we’re cycling to school which is great.  We get to spend some time together, the weather is improving and my daughter gets some time for reflection before beginning the school day, as well as some gentle exercise.

So, what’s changed in the last couple of years since we last cycled regularly to school? My daughter is a much stronger and more confident rider at aged 8, than she was at aged 5 and on the ‘quieter’ mostly residential roads and cycle paths that we use has developed good road sense, positioning and an awareness of what’s going on around her.  It’s great to see, and she enjoys the independence and freedom that cycling brings on her daily trip to school.  Of course, like most parents, I am very proud of her progress.

As for the London Borough of Sutton, I’d like to report similar marked progress in the provision of cycling infrastructure and safety, but there has been little of substance.  The main development seems to have been the building of a ‘cycle lane’ through Grove Park, it is well-surfaced, and wide, although shared with dog walkers etc etc. We use it a fair bit, it cuts out some riding on the road.  However, I am not sure how the designers of the path imagine cyclists will reach this provision, as the roads surrounding it are dedicated to motor vehicles.  Perhaps the London Borough of Sutton envisage parents loading bicycles into cars, driving to the park and then riding aimlessly in parks for ‘leisure’ with no destination in mind, as a similar situation exists in Beddington Park too.  This is not good enough.

A quick, cheap solution would see the roads between Nightingale Road and The Grove becoming closed to through traffic, whilst also making the bridge over Butter Hill one-way to traffic, thus removing the rat-run, and cut-through traffic. The scheme could be replicated across other residential areas of the borough too. A similar solution in Hammersmith between Fulham Palace Road and the River Thames has seen traffic levels much reduced and children cycling safely from a young age through the streets.  I am not sure why London Borough of Sutton and its residents are still waiting.

Of course, many parents cite traffic levels as a prime reason for not allowing their child to cycle.  These very same people then go on to increase traffic levels and pollution levels by using their car, perpetuating a hostile travel environment.  What is actually causing damage to lives in urban areas is soaring levels of pollution, often from diesel vehicles. Parents need to be incentivised to cycle with their children to school.  As the London Borough of Sutton have agreed to 25 years of incineration, which will damage our air-quality and shorten lives for us all, perhaps they could mitigate this decision by creating an environment where children can cycle safely, this will then quickly engage other groups to cycle too. Further, it may also be an idea to offer school places contingent upon use of sustainable transport. At present we are being offered nothing of substance when it comes to cycling and sustainable transport, Sutton seems to be bereft of progressive thinking or the inclination to act in this area.

I asked my daughter to answer a few questions on cycling to school, her responses are below:

Do you enjoy cycling to school?

Yes

What’s the BEST thing about cycling to school

You get to see lots of diffrent things on the way.

What’s the WORST thing about cycling to school?

There are lots of people to go past.

Should children have to wear cycling helmets?

No because if they’re being careful or on the pavement it’s fine.

Do people driving cars expect to see children riding bikes on the road?

Probably if their parent is riding too.

Do your friends ride to school? If so, how many?

Three of my friends sometimes ride to school.

If you could choose ONE thing to make cycling better for children, what would it be?

Making more space for us .

Overall, is travelling to school better by car or bike?

Car when it’s wet or cold, bike when it’s fine.

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Posted in Advocacy, Safe Routes to Schools
4 comments on “Cycling to school 2016
  1. Karl says:

    I certainly see people driving to parks in cars packed with bikes so that their kids can ride up and down them until they get bored. It’s possibly one of the saddest things to witness that rather than being a start to a kids independence, they have to rely more on parents to allow them to ride. Clearly kids want to ride bikes. Mine cycle to school too and would love to ride more but sometimes it just isn’t the most relaxing thing to do as a parent.

    Closing off roads would be a great first step. It would certainly instantly improve the environment of people living along those roads.

  2. Conor McKee says:

    We tested cycling to school a year ago the route took as past the bus depot near west Sutton. We rejected the idea as indeed all the infrastructure is for cars or pedestrians, cyclists do not seem to exist to Sutton. We deemed it too unsafe not only due to lack of space but because of the over engineered road infrastructure which gives the message to drivers that they are king and exacerbates the danger for cyclists. Disappointed to see that the council is not being more proactive on transport – probably too busy rallying Brexiters.
    The 2031 Sutton Masterplan ( https://www.sutton.gov.uk/info/200464/planning_policy/1521/sutton_2031/4) is woefully short on cycling integration strategy, one paragraph and a diagram. The artists impressions have no indication whatsoever of any space for cyclists or indeed any cyclists.

  3. Nicola Thomas says:

    We also need the infrastructure in schools: our school (primary in North Cheam) has nowhere to store bikes so they have to be left on the very few public bike racks in the area, open to the weather and casual vandalism. The school does provide covered scooter racks and so that’s our current choice, even though my daughters would prefer to cycle and in fact I escort them on my bike before continuing my journey to work.

    • Charles Martin says:

      I would have thought the provision of somewhere to store a few bicycles at the school would be fairly easy to arrange. I will be in touch with the details of a contact at the council who may be able to help with this.

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