If you’re over a certain age it’s more than likely that your journey to school involved using your own two feet, or getting on your bike. Figures from the National Travel Survey however, show that since the 1970s, the proportion of children being driven to school has increased while the numbers walking or cycling has fallen sharply. With concerns about congestion and pollution, isn’t it about time we learned to leave the car at home, and start moving around under our own steam again?
Perhaps, but our most direct route is along the A206, along the section between the Woolwich Ferry and the Blackwall Tunnel; not the most inviting or safe route if you have a two-year-old in a cycle trailer! It’s no wonder, that unlike the Netherlands, where most children are either cycled to school, or cycle themselves to school, most parents in the UK, are reluctant to allow their children to do the same.
The Game Changer
So why have I decided to brave this 2-mile route by bicycle and leave the car at home? Well I’m not the usual eco-warrior type. I drive a ten year old diesel estate car and don’t get unduly worried about booking a flight abroad, but it just seemed such a waste of time and fuel driving my daughter such a short distance, especially at a time when the roads were filled with others doing exactly the same. But surely the car would at least be a bit safer on that A206, with all the tipper trucks, cars and HGVs converging on Blackwall Tunnel?
Well thankfully, I’ve also got a great, off-road cycle route right on my doorstep. Quietway 14, taking in most of the Thames Path, pretty much runs door-to-door. It’s a fantastic ride, tracking along the River Thames, carving through old warehouses and the Thames Barrier Park. There are no cars, it’s been recently resurfaced, and new signage added, and is really easy to use for a beginner, with no map-reading, steep climbs or off-roading skills required! It’s everything a route should be: direct, easy to navigate and going to somewhere you actually want to go. It’s great to be able to make these trips by bike and save on the time, money and stress of having to drive them. I’ll often see neighbours at the school gate at the end of the day before we head off our separate ways, them by car, only to both be parking up back home at the same time!
So why don’t more of us do this?
Obviously, we’re a long way from the situation in the Netherlands. I’m lucky in having a high-quality route on my doorstep, but most parents with children at the same school don’t have that option. Some will be coupling a school journey with a work trip, or be having to take children further afield to schools out of catchment areas, but while the average journey length and time to school has increased since the 70s, most children are still within a 20-30 minute walk or bike ride. With an estimated 25% of morning rush hour traffic down to the “School Run”, even enabling some of those journeys to be done another way would still have a huge positive impact on congestion. So what are we waiting for?