Has COVID called time on school traffic?

This article was originally published in the October 2020 edition of Heswall Magazine.

With driving such an easy option for many, and busy routines meaning lots of parents need to get straight to work, we have created the perfect storm of noisy, polluted, unsafe routes to school for our children.

My own morning routine might not be so different to many others. Where are their shoes? Have they brushed their teeth? Why aren’t they eating their breakfast?! These are all things that go through my head from 8am until 8.40am each week day morning before a mad dash to the front door and our short journey to school.

Our journey is done by bicycle which is not massively unusual. The bike sheds at our primary schools in Bebington are full of bikes and scooters each morning. Many others walk as well, in fact the majority of people at our school travel in a healthy, sustainable way. It’s easy to forget that though, as the noise and the smell from the mass of idling cars is often quite overwhelming, as is the levels of anxiety when we come to cross the various roads on our daily trip.

Rethink Now CIC was setup almost solely because of the horror of the school run. There came a point where my eldest son was too fast to ride on the pavement so we were left with a choice – take to the road or start to walk instead. Walking is a beautiful thing but I didn’t feel like we should back down, so we took to the road. If you haven’t cycled on a busy road with a 6 year old to look out for then I can highly recommend it. If you look at the pinned video at the top of my Twitter profile you’ll see what I mean.

We took this energy and ran a small scale air quality testing project with children and parents back in 2018. The results were not surprising. Each day we walked in with a different child and each day the air pollution dramatically worsened near to the school gates. We would rightly frown and (possibly) complain if a parent was smoking a cigarette near kids, so why don’t we react the same way when a child is forced to breathe in a lung full of diesel fumes? Driving is so habitual for many of us but I think we all know that a rethink is needed.

Help is now at hand thanks to ‘School Streets’. These are timed road closures around primary schools that restrict cars with the aim of reducing harmful air pollution, calming streets to enable more walking, cycling and scooting and forcing the issue on climate action (far too many car journeys are of less than a mile – a distance that can easily be walked or cycled). Hundreds of these School Streets schemes exist in London – Hackney have lead the way – and Wirral Council have agreed to test six schemes across our borough in the coming months.

Would schools in Heswall benefit from this? Can you imagine a Heswall where parents, teachers and children all arrive at work on two wheels or on foot? It happens at scale in other parts of the world and it can happen here too. I’m writing this in the midst of ‘Bike To School Week’ in the UK. The weather is turning but still the bike sheds are full. I imagine a future where masses of extra bike/scooter parking is needed. A future where even staff cycle to work and car parks are given back to pupils to learn and to grow things.

Imagine! If you’d like to learn more about School Streets and sustainable transport then please do get in touch via rethinknow.uk.

Still banging on about bikes… join us- PLEASE

Yesterday we did something amazing as a family for the first time.

We went on a bike ride.

ALL TOGETHER.

ALL ON BIKES.

ALL AT THE SAME TIME!!!

AND…FURTHER MORE…WE WENT ON THE ACTUAL REAL LIFE ROADS. WOWZER!

I am made up- this is a big deal for us and, even bigger when I consider that today the girls and I did it again, without the aid of the most able and confident cyclist in our gang- Mr L.

Our girls are 7 and 8 and I am 40 this year so it’s not as if we are breaking any world records or anything but for us it is note worthy and, judging from the conversations I have had with lots of other parents, we aren’t alone! Not everyone is as confident as Will and Ed on two wheels; they are the exception rather than the norm- in this country at least.

This might not sound major to many people but, for me, the prospect of riding on a main road with my children would have been pretty much unthinkable until lockdown. The roads were too busy, too noisy, too dangerous, too damn scary for me to even consider it – despite being a director for a CIC whose principal focus is getting people out of cars and reducing our carbon footprints. I am happy to walk, happy to run, happy with public transport and, as a family we actively try to live active and environmentally conscious lives so, it is saying something if I lacked the confidence to regularly ride on the roads.

Infact; quieter roads have not been the only plus point of lockdown in my opinion. It has given us the opportunity to really explore some of the gorgeous green spaces we have on our doorstep- Caldy Hill and Arrowe Park, Heswall Shore, The Dales and Dungeons to name a few. Having lived on Wirral for much of my life I knew the usual suspects- West Kirby, The Wirral Way, The Marshes at Parkgate but so much more opened up to us as soon as the option of jumping in the car was off the agenda. During the past 12 weeks we have run, walked, cycled and scooted closer to home far more than we ever made time for previously and we are all the better for it.

Getting out alone and into some green space has been a real balm for me over these last few months. Watching the sunrise, hearing the birds, seeing the squirrels, it has all enabled me to retain or more accurately, regain, a sense of calm. Without it, I think I would have found this time much more challenging.

This enforced ‘lockdown’ or ‘slowdown’ has afforded us the opportunity to glimpse at how life could be with

  • The option to work from home regularly
  • Flexitime
  • More family time
  • More time in nature
  • Less traffic on our roads
  • A slower pace of life generally and an opportunity to really access what is important.

It is a life I believe we could all gain so much from and, as the lockdown continues to ease it is imperative that we don’t allow all of these gains to slip away. For so many of our European neighbours cycling is a way of life- far more common than the car for the school run, the commute or the shopping- could this be a part of our ‘new normal’?

Rethink Now are determined to be a part of the “What now” conversation- the discussion on what needs to happen to keep people cycling, keep people walking and make sure that people don’t automatically revert to the car whilst public transport services are squeezed due to social distancing measures.

To do this, we really need your help;

A tool has gone online to enable you to highlight locations that need to be improved for pedestrians and cyclists across Wirral during the COVID-19 crisis and potentially longer term if the changes are well received.

If there is an area that you feel needs to be changed or improved say, due to excessive pavement parking, too many cars near your kids school or feeling roads are unsafe for cycling PLEASE do take the time to comment- you can highlight as many locations as you want and provide as much detail as necessary to help the council decide what changes will be made where. The more people that comment the more evidence there is to say that as a peninsula we want access to safe, green modes of transport. We want an alternative to the car that feels safe and convenient. We want to enjoy our local area on two wheels or on foot- whatever our age or ability.

The site is really quick and easy to use – click the orange ‘Have your say’ button, scroll/zoom to the part of the map you want to comment on, drop a pin and fill out the quick form before submitting.

https://wirralliveablestreets.commonplace.is

There is also one for Chester if that is applicable for you, and Liverpool too!

And- if furlough is giving you more time than you know what to do with; you could also email your local councillors regarding any safety concerns and the importance of walking/cycling- what difference it has made to your area in lockdown and why you feel it is necessary. Councillors just aren’t hearing enough from people about this stuff and unless it feels like a priority to them other things will take precedence.  – quite often they are hearing a lot by way of complaints about not enough parking, lack of access for cars, complaints about pesky cyclists on the pavement, etc. We need to turn the tide on this in a massive way as we face down the COVID crisis that will merge into our environmental crisis. Find your councillors here and let them know that this stuff is important.

https://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/mgFindMember.aspx

Covid has been a truly horrific time for so many – it is important that we do all we can to capture any grains of goodness and help them grow. We believe this is possible; do you?

Join us on our mission:

  • Cleaner, greener places
  • Connected communities
  • Happier People
  • Healthier Planet

Please use the links above to share this post across your social and encourage as many people as possible to share their views – positive or constructive on the site. You can also tell any friends and family that aren’t on SM too- it is important to reach as many people as possible. The deadline is 31st August but, now is good!

Bike to the Future

Just as lockdown began, Rethink Now began work on an exciting bid for eCargo bikes. Working closely with Wirral Environmental Network, Wirral Council, Peel L&P and others we submitted a proposal focusing on reducing the number of short distance deliveries undertaken by motorised vehicles. Deliveries which have been so important over recent weeks to get vital supplies to vulnerable members of our communities.

This method of delivery was the norm in the post-war era with lads on bikes whizzing orders across towns and villages- they were quick, clean and efficient means of travel and a brilliant way to promote the company but, as roads became busier, they fell into decline.

1905 Alldays Standard Carrier Tricycle

Well, no more! The bid was successful and Wirral, along with 17 other local councils will shortly take ownership of a fleet of ebikes and trailers for use by local businesses and educational establishments.

Once the bikes arrive, we’ll be working directly with Wirral Chamber of Commerce to get these bikes into the hands of local business owners to enable the shift to low cost, low emission deliveries on Wirral.

The Covid 19 crisis has forced a vastly different way of life on all of us and, as we begin to feel our way towards a return to ‘normal’ we have the opportunity to work with our communities and businesses to ensure that it is a future we have created with intention and purpose. A future that works for our physical and mental health and that of our loved ones.

“eCargo bikes are great for not only business but also the environment, helping to lower costs and emissions.” 

“This funding will see groceries and other shopping delivered to people’s doors by bike instead of vans, helping ensure that as transport increases and we recover from Covid-19, it’ll be cleaner and greener than ever before.”

Chris Heaton-Harris, Cycling Minister

Tim Anderson, Head of Transport at Energy Saving Trust, said: “eCargo bikes are an attractive low carbon transport solution that are becoming more widely adopted. They offer significant benefits, most impressively fuel cost savings and contributing to improved local air quality which are particularly attractive as we work towards a green recovery following the Covid-19 outbreak. With more deliveries to our homes than ever, last mile delivery is an important area for consideration in our journey to reduce transport emissions to net zero by 2050. We expect the eCargo Bike Grant Fund to support wider and longer term uptake of these light vehicles.”

At Rethink Now CIC we want to be part of the team pushing Wirral towards a cleaner, greener future and the e cargo bikes are a brilliant first step on this journey. If you’d like to be the first to know when the scheme launches, as well as other Rethink Now news, join our mailing list today to be kept up to date.

Watch this space.

Image: Bike Hugger

Rethink Now CIC awarded up to £10,000 and place on learning programme to improve local community

Ed Lamb, Director of Rethink Now CIC a Wirral based community interest company, is one of 71 leaders across England selected for a competitive learning programme and grant of up to £10,000.

The Community Business Trade Up Programme is run by the School for Social Entrepreneurs, in partnership with Power to Change. The programme supports people working to improving their local communities through trade.

The programme will help Rethink Now founder Ed, and fellow Director,Tanya Leary to grow Rethink Now CIC, which focuses on reducing short journey car commutes and strengthening communities, both of which have been brought into sharp relief of late.

Ed Lamb began his nine-month learning programme at the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) in May via Zoom calls and distance learning and is already feeling the benefits of the support. SSE helps people develop the skills, strengths and networks they need to tackle society’s biggest problems.

Ed says: “I am delighted to have been accepted onto this brilliant programme and I feel like now this is more important than ever. At Rethink Now we are totally committed to supporting people on Wirral and having the chance to flesh out our plans and develop the necessary skills and networks to do some really meaningful work is really important to us. The Community Business Trade Up Programme and the grant is a key element of our next steps.

Amber Sorrell, programme manager at the School for Social Entrepreneurs, says: “We are thrilled to welcome Ed onto the programme, where he will learn alongside other community leaders how to create lasting social impact for the region. We are confident Ed has the entrepreneurial qualities and motivation to increase theimpact Rethink Now can have on Wirral and beyond, which is why we have awarded them a highly-coveted place.”.

Find out more about the programme and register your interest for the 2020/21 programme at https://www.the-sse.org/courses/community-business/