Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The School Run (or walk, or cycle)

There's been a bit of fuss about young children cycling to school in the last few days. It started when Oliver and Gillian Schonrock, who live in a pleasant part of SE London, decided to let their two children cycle to school.

The children are aged five and eight, and this immediately led to an outcry and reaction to the outcry, not least from Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. If you want to follow the pros and cons of that argument, there are plenty of places online where it's being debated: try here (Telegraph) or here (Positive Parenting) for example.

I'd like to present a slightly different view, which is this: in too many parts of Britain, cycling is positively dangerous, regardless of your age. I blogged on this a few years ago, after a near death experience on my one and only attempt to cycle to and from work. While footpaths, which by default are reserved for pedestrians, are common, cycle paths are rare. Cyclists are expected to share the roads with cars.

However, most roads are far too narrow to accommodate a dedicated cycle lane of adequate width. It may have escaped your notice that cyclists seldom cycle as fast as cars, but I assure you that it is true (except perhaps in Central London) and so you get queues of cars building up behind cyclists on narrow roads, their drivers getting impatient and then accelerating past at any opportunity. The margins for error are slim, the risk to the car perhaps a scratch, the risk to the cyclist perhaps his or her life.

It doesn't have to be like this. Oxford and York, to name just two, offer high quality cycling facilities. The lack of safe cycle routes elsewhere really needs fixing.

It's a constant policy across the major political parties that they want more people to cycle to work (and to school, college and just in general). Local councils often try to make facilities available, with varying degrees of success. See the Facility of the Month link here.

What is needed is a co-ordinated and consistent approach across all levels of government:

  • All new developments should have dedicated cycle paths mandated.
  • Many existing roads are broad enough to accommodate a cycle path of acceptable width, rather than the few inches of crumbling surface at the edge of the road. Councils should actively identify all roads broad enough to support dedicated cycle paths and to paint the roads appropriately.
  • In other areas, councils should be required to create plans to make facilities available wherever possible to link up cycle paths and enable residents to safely cycle around towns.

I don't know at what age it's responsible to allow children to cycle to school. I do know that for cyclists of all ages, we need to do a great deal more to make cycling safer.

1 comment:

Slim said...

While proper cycle lanes would be great (look to Germany and The Netherlands for great examples of this), the local UK problem is also car drivers' attitude to cyclists. Even in France they give cyclists a much wider berth and a little respect on the road.

Regarding these two kids cycling to school, I think the older one cannot be trusted to stop a 5 year old on a bike. Also, this is London and not some small village in Lincolnshire (such as where I grew up and cycled to school, but not at 5!).