Bike to School Week is a sick joke…

Today is the start of bike to school week. Or a more realistic name for it would be watch your child die under the wheels of a car week.

I am a cyclist but the last thing I would ever do is bring my child out on the roads of Belfast. The cycle lane infrastructure in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland is absolutely pathetic. In Belfast there are only 2 miles of protected cycle lanes in the whole city. The Department Of Cars Infrastructure has done next to nothing to put in proper cycle infrastructure. What little they did do Translink has been lobbying to get removed.

The Department for Cars Infrastructure’s own research showed that from 2014 to 2019, no children aged 12 to 18 cycled to go to and from school. From the same report:

In 2019, 46% of students took public transport, 31% a car, 19% walked 3% used another form of transport while 0% cycled.

At primary school level, the majority of children (61%) were driven to school by car in 2019. There was also a drop in the number of children who have walked to school since 2014, going from 34% to 21%, and 15% of pupils took public transport. 2% of children cycled to and from their primary school.

Now to be fair, bike to school week also encourages kids to scoot or walk to school. I walk my son to school every day. It gives us both exercise and it helps to wake you up. What really grinds my Shimano gears is the number of kids who are driven to school. I know several people who drive their kids to school when the school is literally at the top of their street. Traffic is so heavy it would literally be quicker for them to walk. Most traffic is caused by the school run. When the schools are off the traffic magically disappears. I get that in rural areas you might have no option but to drive; or some parents drop kids off on the way to work. But in towns most kids attend their local primary school, well within walking distance.

This issue tends to be self-perpetuating. Parents think it is too dangerous to let their kids cycle, scoot or walk to school so they drive them instead, thus adding to the problem. As the man says, you are not in traffic, you are the traffic. Nor is the weather the issue people think it is. Only about once every 6 weeks is it ever too wet to walk.

Kids are getting increasingly inactive. Around 25% of children are now either overweight or obese. Overweight kids tend to grow up to be overweight adults with all the associated health and societal costs that this entails. A very common sight is to see kids on their devices while being driven to school, just to give them a double dose of inactivity. Kids need exercise: my guy is bouncing off the walls if he does not get some activity. I wonder what effect this all has on behaviour in class? How many ‘behavioural problems’ are down to expecting kids to sit every waking moment of the day? Do any teachers care to chime in?

Cycling to school is a fantasy but we should be doing more to encourage walking to school or taking public transport. Let’s do it for the kids.