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.