Friday, July 6, 2012

Children and cycling

The European Cyclists Federation have an excellent article on supporting more children cycling. It points to the Netherlands as an example where more children cycle to school than walk. This is in contrast with all other European countries where more children walk to school. In the USA only 1% of children cycle to school and Australia does not fare much better.

So why don't more children cycle to school? The ECF article identifies 3 things that the Netherlands has implemented that appear to be a recipe for success:
  • Child education and training - school children get educated and have practical on-road training in safe cycling and walking on the road network
  • Safe infrastructure - a cohesive and continuous network of cycle facilities that separate cyclists from traffic is essential to getting more children cycling to school
  • Driver training and legal responsibility - driver training emphasises the responsibility of the driver to be aware of pedestrians and cyclists. If a child cyclists or pedestrian is hit by a car the legal responsibility is almost automatically placed on the car driver.
This excellent blog post by Jan Garrard identifies some of the constraints to more children cycling to school. These are:
  • trip distance, which is supposedly greater in Australia
  • traffic hazards
  • “stranger danger”
  • the inconvenience of cycling compared to being driven.

  • Infrastructure improvements will only address one of these constraints. Our urban structure will be difficult to address. Parental fear and laziness can be addressed through education and encouragement.

    Unfortunately I believe that the shift of Grade 7 to high school will further reduce the number of children walking and cycling to school in Queensland as it impacts most severely on the first of these factors.

    My two children (5 and 7 years old) have just started riding and we have had great fun cycling along the cycle paths in Brisbane and surrounds on weekends. But will they cycle to school? Probably not to primary school as the school is at the top of a big hill less than 600m walk from home. But if they wanted to I don't believe it would be feasible. The school is on a busy intersection with few safe cycle routes. I also have not seen any cycle parking at the school, although I have seen a couple of kids cycling.

    For high school the prospects are better as our local high school is just off the SE Bikeway, as are we. Despite this the school has awful cycle parking that looks barely used. There is much that can be done to improve cycling for school children.

    I suspect (and Jan Garrard would seem to agree) though that the most effective way to get more children cycling to school is to get their parents excited about cycling.


    Anonymous said...

    We need to be careful when advocating cycling that we don't generalise and negatively label non-cyclists. E.g. you've labelled parents whose children don't cycle to school as "fearful" and "lazy" who need to be "educated". There are many reasons why children are driven to school and parents might not respond to "encouragement" that is patronising.

    Athol Moore said...

    Good point anonymous. Condescention was not the intention, rather what I meant is that many children who could ride to school are either prevented from doing so by their, or their parent's, concerns about their safety(often well founded), or their own preference for being ferried around in a car instead of doing exercise. I know I suffer from the former and my children suffer from the latter.
    For many, cycling is not an option because of other reasons - most notably real road safety risks or distance. There are other reasons that were not mentioned in the literature. The two that prevent us from walking our kids to school every day are convenience and lack of time. Dropping the kids at school is usually part of another trip in our household (and many others). Active transport is therefore not an option now due to convenience. When they are old enough they can walk by themselves (if I can overcome my fears). Until then, I admit, they will usually be driven to/from school as it is the most convenient in our busy day.
    It is always risky when trying to encourage people to try other travel behaviours that people infer a value judgement when they cannot, or prefer not, to change their travel behaviours. Condescention or patronising tones are usually not intended in such promotion and education campaigns but unfortunately are often heard. The use of positive language (concern and convenience) instead of negative language (fear and laziness) would go a long way to avoid unintended negative labelling.

    Yru Redhead said...

    Passenger Vehicles/ 1,000 people
    1971 348 (Qld)
    1995 478 (Aust)
    2009 552 (Aust)

    And we know that if you have a car you are more inclined to use it.. I'm sure the increase in vehicles per household is an important factor also.