Safer Routes to School

Tara Lammas-Daniell and Gillian Carey, project workers on the Safer Routes to School scheme, came to our January open meeting to tell us about their work.

The aim is to encourage walking and cycling to school, for three main reasons:

  • to improve childhood health and fitness,
  • to reduce school-run congestion and air pollution,
  • to make children more independent and overcome fears about abduction.

Local surveys have shown 51% of those driving to school travel less than a mile; 34% of parents who drive children to school go straight back home; and 54% of children delivered to school by car would prefer to cycle.

There are currently nine member schools, with a total budget of £60,000. They are in St Ives, Littleport, and Coleridge, Romsey and St Philip’s in Cambridge. To collect details of current travel patterns and postcodes, parents fill in questionnaires, and the results are used to produce a map of travel flows. Children are involved staff work with them, using plenty of ‘resources’ such as workbooks on traffic-calming.

Coleridge College is one of the schools involved in the Safer Routes to Schools pilot – although it is now threatened with closure
Image as described adjacent

Problems vary from school to school. At Coleridge there was a problem getting across Radegund Road safely, so a crossing will be installed outside the school. St Philip’s organised a bike week in October. They specifically wanted money to buy helmets, reflective gear and lights for example, and the scheme was able to find funding. (It seems only dark cycle helmets are trendy at the moment – but there’s no problem with brightly coloured jackets.) Other schools will hold bike weeks in the spring. The County is looking to community groups (such as us!) to be involved.

It seems 90% of parents want to see cycle training provided. Currently, training starts when children reach the age of ten. From April, the County will be training volunteers to do off-road (playground) training for seven- to ten-year-olds. Pedestrian training for young children has also been requested, and Tara and Gillian are looking for good examples on which to model a local scheme.

Cycle sheds are important, but cost can cost around £5,000, and need to be somewhere visible, not hidden away. Many schools have concrete slots, which won’t take chunky mountain-bike tyres.

The Coleridge and Romsey schools would like to produce a Safer Routes to Schools map, with safety tips.

In November 1998, recruitment started for the next batch of ten schools, and there was a lot of interest. Part of the selection process involves ensuring schools understand how much commitment is required. This is hard, due to their already heavy workload.

We heard about a variety of interesting ideas from elsewhere in the country. In St Albans, there is an interesting and popular scheme whereby parents take turns to walk to school with children from designated pickup points. There is usually one parent to five children, with a trolley for bags. It’s known as the Walking Bus. Another Hertfordshire scheme provides a cycle lane towards school in the morning, with car-parking on the other side of the road. The two are reversed in the afternoon.

Tara and Gillian were keen to stress the scheme is not about attacking car drivers, but about changing attitudes and behaviour.

They also mentioned the shortage of volunteers to run school-based cycle training. If you are interested in helping cyclists of the future, do get in touch with the Campaign, or with Tara at the County Council.

Tim Burford