Nine pupils and five staff members from Bike It Plus schools across London attended a Sustrans-organised parliamentary breakfast panel discussion on Thursday 19th June. They discussed with senior level MPs the creation of safer streets for children to travel to school by foot or by bike.
Oaks Park High School in Redbridge, Alleyn’s Junior School in Southwark, James Oglethorpe Primary School in Havering and Links Primary in Merton were all invited to make their contributions to this live campaign.
They heard from cycling Minister Robert Goodwill, Shadow Transport Minister Richard Burden, Dr Julian Huppert MP, Harrogate local councillor Helen Flynn, and Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership Chief Executive Jo Lappin who discussed ways to change school travel behaviour. There was an audience of around 50 people from across the public, private and third sectors.
The event was part of Sustrans Campaign for Safer Streets and was designed to address the following question:
What further policy measures and resources are needed from National Government to increase the numbers of safe routes for children to walk and cycle to school?
In 1971, 80% of 7-8 year olds walked or cycled to school on their own. Today, 84% of 7-10 year olds are accompanied to school by an adult.44% of primary aged children are driven to school, although the average journey is only 1.8miles; a 25 minute walk, or 15 minute bike ride.
This is affecting children’s health and well-being* and causing huge traffic congestion problems around the school gate across the country.
Many of the pupils who attended spoke of their experiences manoeuvring around busy traffic on the way to school in the morning. The children, who ranged from age 8 – 14, had never experienced this kind of environment before and many of them were nervous. However the potency of the issue prompted four of them to summon up the courage to ask a question to the panel. The topics addressed by the pupils included:
- A sense of danger around the presence of large vehicles such as coaches and buses outside the school gates in the morning and after school
- The need for more and better developed cut throughs for children walking to school, to avoid busy main roads
- The lack of safe crossing points for children walking to school on their own
On the whole the MPs were very supportive of the children’s proposals and questions, and were delighted to have children represented at the event. Richard Burden, Labour MP and Shadow Transport Minister commented that local government spending cuts had affected the provision of lollipop ladies and other initiatives to get children to school safely.
Deborah Rowles, head of James Oglethorpe Primary School, commented on the government policy of allowing parents to choose their child’s school, rather than obliging children to attend their local school. This creates a situation where many parents are travelling from too far to even consider walking or cycling with their children.
Helen Flynn, Lib Dem parliamentary spokesperson, said congestion problems are only set to get worse with a rising population and the difference in quality of life for children who walk and cycle to school is unbelievable.
A varied and lively debate took place covering lots of the challenges and barriers to progress on this issue. Read more about the event here.
The Bike It team in London are really proud of those children who took part and want to thank the school staff for their efforts to make this happen. This important campaign continues so keep up to date here.
*Only 1 in 40 11 year olds achieve the recommended daily hour of physical exercise and 28% of children under the age of 16 are now overweight or obese