For many years, I have been witness to the chaos that takes place at the school gate twice a day, as a result of children being delivered to and from school by car. And while the extent and implications of this problem are generally accepted and acknowledged, it is safe to say that little has changed.
The thing is, I used to believe that getting children to travel to school independently was actually a piece of ‘low hanging fruit’. I am embarrassed by my naivety. Over the years I have spoken to many parents about it and my impression is that it is not a high priority. Given the current economic and social climate we live in, I am not surprised by this apparent lack of interest. The families who do use some form of active transport seem to have made a deliberate choice, they are choosing to ignore the prevailing market forces.
Nor are schools going to be leading the charge to address this issue. I have spent many years witnessing the thinking and actions of my colleagues. And personal experience tells me that any government agency ‘safe-travel’ initiatives, in their current format, simply maintain the status-quo. “Ok children, we are here today to teach you how to put your helmet on correctly”. Wrong audience, wrong message.
Of course, to make it safe for children to travel to school independently, we will need to employ effective and proven technical solutions. Solutions that eliminate traffic and reduce traffic speeds. Solutions that not only make it safer to walk and cycle but actually make it feel safer. But before then, there is a need to connect with those parents who are currently driving their children to school.
Because only genuine, community-led, grassroots campaigning will bring about effective and long lasting improvements. A strong social contract that prioritises the well-being of our children is what’s needed. A vision for ‘better cities’ will be not be led by engineers, bureaucrats or politicians. It will be led by members of the community. Small steps, small successes, inspirational stories, replicated.
‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.