Thursday, 6 February 2014

The School Run (Well Walk & Cycle Anyway!)

I was invited to give a talk at a school travel conference this week which was attended by several local primary and secondary school pupils and staff.

Typical outer-London layout, no good for children trying to get to
school. Yes, only one "traffic" lane here!
We heard from schools leading the way in getting the school run away from the car and onto bike or foot and how they were working with other schools in their area to share their experiences. 

We heard from the pupils themselves who were pretty much running the whole agenda for smarter travel in their schools. It was also amazing how many walked or cycled, in an outer-London context, given what the prevailing conditions are like!

For my talk, as I only had ten minutes I gave a slideshow of photos from some of my travels to try and show what could be done to make riding bikes to school easier and feel safer

My ice-breaker was a photo of me in bright orange doing the Ride London last year (OK, the 8 miler!), where I emphasised that this was sport cycling, not day to day cycling! I then did a straw poll on who cycled to work or school - I reckon about 10% of the 80 or so people there.

My next photo was one of my favourites from Copenhagen with the child in the cargobike on a clear cycle track in the snow. I informed the audience that this was what every day cycling was about.

I then blasted through a series of photos showing examples of filtered permeability, cycle tracks, traffic signals for bikes, cycle parking, traffic order exemptions and so on - many of you will have seen the photos on this blog before. 

Some of my examples were cheap and simple, aimed at making local roads quiet. Some were serious bits of engineering for the places where direct links at main roads were vital and where people on bikes needed protection. Oh, and I did show Royal College Street, even though I know some people are not fans!

I ended with a mock-up of a busy road outside one of the schools attending the conference, where I had reworked things to provide a bidirectional cycle track. It was not totally thought out, but gave a flavour of what we need to do on the main roads. I then asked if we used some of the things I had shown, how many people would cycle to work or school. About 75% of the people in the room put up their hand!

Children don't want the school run to look like this. Why aren't we
and especially elected people listening to them?
I know this is not scientific and to some extent, many of the people there were already really interested in leaving the car behind to get to their school (whether pupils or staff). But, if only we started building, imagine what the school run could look like.

There was a Q&A session for the presenters and I was asked what I thought was the best way to get schemes built to help people walk and cycle. Apart from the schools getting the ideas in their travel plans (a funding bid hoop they need to jump through), I advocated the schools getting into groups in their local areas and working with their communities and their neighbours to get a plan together of what they wanted to see. 

After a decade in local government highways, I would say that officers can make suggestions until they are blue in the face - it needs local people to step up and demand change from their elected representatives and remind them who their current and future voters are!


  1. May I suggest, if you get to give another talk like this, that one of the best ways to get schemes built is to explain the comparative costs of various measures and how you have to cut your cloth accordingly.

    It's self-evidently an unsexy subject, but (despite the invective aimed at the industry, and us) I would say the main difference between those cyclists campaigning for better cycling infrastructure and traffic/highway engineers is that we know just how much these things cost. There's no quicker way to lose credibility than to suggest Dutch infrastructure to some poor LA engineer with the 'massive' sum of £100k to 'fix' an entire borough.

    Andy R

    1. Good point, although the aim of the talk was to explain that we had the tools, we needed the will - funding is part of the will and sometimes a small budget is worse than no budget because of unrealistic expectations of what can be done!

  2. Dutch infrastructure isn't all big budget stuff and we shouldn't compromise what's being asked for in order to fit the budget.

    So surely cycle campaigners should only ask for what is right and not what fits the budget, to put pressure on the politians to change that budget.