Young people cycling to school

This article was published in 2015, in Newsletter 118.

Bikes parked opposite Parkside Community College.
Image as described adjacent

I can’t help feeling that we are lucky in Cambridge that a large number of young people do cycle to school. Having chatted to some of them, I have learnt that they appreciate the freedom this gives them, compared to being ever dependent on Mum or Dad having to drive them places, especially for non-school activities such as attending a ballet class.

While thinking about this, a suggestion that if you are ever, as I sometimes am, slightly frustrated by a small and inexperienced cyclist with parent in attendance cycling to school, often on a safe off-road route, be patient, and give plenty of space and warning before overtaking. Every child learning in this way is hopefully one fewer adult totally wedded to their car for even the shortest journey in the future.

On my route to work I cycle past two schools daily and I hope these are the exception, as I feel the pupils of these two establishments are very poorly served in terms of what to do with their bicycle when they arrive at school. I would guess that a good 50% of pupils at Parkside Community College cycle to school. There are apparently some bike racks inside the premises, but my observation is that these are clearly inadequate. As Parkside is close to the long-distance coach stops, this means that any coach passenger wishing to cycle to the stops and depart within school hours is stuck, as the railings used as overflow for Parkside pupils also have to act as cycle parking for the coach passengers. Incidentally it is clear that when the coach stops were moved, no thought was given to how people were going to arrive at the stops and where they might park their bicycles if they chose to cycle.

Hills Road Sixth Form College is a massive school, taking sixth-formers from all over the county. Traffic (bus, cycle and pedestrian) to it completely skews Hills Road each morning and the pavements over the railway bridge are inadequate to cope with the number of pupils walking from the railway station for about a half-hour period. However, large numbers of pupils cycle to Hills Road too. I notice the difference in the numbers of cyclists on Hills Road during the school holidays.

Bikes parked outside The Marque in Hills Road.
Image as described adjacent

Where do pupils park their cycles when they get here? There are some stands on the premises but there is a two-year-old issue on Cyclescape regarding this, as they are quite clearly insufficient for the number of pupils cycling to school ( What most pupils do is cycle into Purbeck Road where there is a fence and use that. In some places the fence is sturdy but in others just thin wire and as the position is fairly secluded I can only suspect that this would be a cycle thief’s dream location. However, some alleviation came when The Marque building was constructed last year. There are going to be retail units on the ground floor, only one of which is currently occupied. The Design and Access statement says ‘Parking for shoppers. On-street bike parking is provided along Hills Road and Cherry Hinton road, where it does not compromise the usable pavement width’. Some very nice Sheffield stands, correctly spaced, have appeared. Last time I cycled past them at lunch-time during school term, occupancy was running at over 95%, plus a large number of cycles parked insecurely nearby as pupils have realised it’s a convenient location. Students had presumably come to appreciate it partly because it also allowed them to avoid the unprotected right turn into Purbeck Road, a tricky manoeuvre, given the traffic levels and location, for all but the expert. Fewer right-turning cyclists also reduced conflicts between cars and those cyclists who are continuing further south. I wondered if there would be a fuss when the retail units were finally leased?

I shouldn’t have wondered so hard. The fuss has already happened, with only one retail unit currently occupied. Apparently, despite there being no line on the pavement, or any kind of fence, once you step over this invisible line, you are on private property and this is ‘private cycle parking for residents and patrons of The Marque’. This leads to a multitude of questions including the obvious one: if you place cycle racks on what looks to any member of the public like the public highway, do you have a leg to stand on in trying to limit who can park their bicycle there and are the notices that have appeared legally enforceable in court? And will the property owners also go after the sixth-formers who just hang out there, chatting on their phones, or possibly having a crafty cigarette, as they are the ‘wrong side of the invisible line’?

Private cycle parking sign.
Image as described adjacent

More importantly, this suggests total incompetence on the part of whoever granted planning permission for this building back in 2008. Is this really where residents of The Marque who own a bicycle are supposed to leave them overnight, and for days on end? Is this really where staff of the shops on an eight-hour shift are supposed to park? This is a building with a large car park behind and in an undercroft, where adequate secure parking should be provided for both these classes of user. The parking outside the front surely is for customers of the shops? However, the quantity provided suggests they expect any convenience store there to be busier than the Sidney Street Sainsbury’s. If I need to use that shop, I don’t bother finding something to lock my bicycle to, since I’m not going to be in there for long enough that the risk of theft is significant, but just kick it onto its stand and put the lock around the wheels. The only currently occupied premises is an estate agent. Generally these days, you communicate with your estate agent at a distance, online or by telephone, only meeting them at a property you wish to view, and the only time I ever visited my estate agent’s premises was to pick up the keys! So even in the current property market, perhaps they have two customers, visiting for ten minutes, each day at most. Given the shortage of parking in this area in general, when permission was given for change of use, why was a Section 106 agreement not taken out to force the developers to provide cycle parking for everyone who uses this area?

The action taken to prohibit cycle parking is in effect penalising our young people who are attempting to use a sensible and sustainable mode of transport to get to school. All this raises the question: do we really want our young people to learn to be confident adult cyclists who gain a lifelong habit of cycling rather than taking the car by starting them early and making their whole journey as easy as possible, or would the authorities prefer that they are kept tied to Mum and Dad’s apron strings and under adult control by discouraging them from cycling to school?

Heather Coleman