Day Four: Space for cycling*


Begging for a cycle lane? – Photo by Town Mouse

Getting the bus to school is working well for us. By this I mean that we can leave the house ten minutes before school starts (never the intention, but often the reality), tear down the street, and cross the main road right in front of the bus so that it can’t move off until we’ve boarded it. We’re usually about two minutes late for school but nobody’s mentioned it yet.

Ideally, however, we’d be cycling to school every day. This would be better exercise for the girls, potentially one of the fastest ways to travel, and completely free.

In our borough I think 2-3% of all journeys are made by bike. I don’t know what the figure drops to for school journeys, but I can count on one hand the number of children I have seen cycling to school. In the Netherlands, that percentage is 49%. Oh, you tell me, that’s because Holland is flat! No, I tell you, that’s because Holland doesn’t make your children – or you – cycle with scary traffic. Instead there is a good network of safe, segregated cycle paths. And in similarly bike-friendly Copenhagen, 58% of people who cycle say they do so because it’s easy and fast – only 1% do it for the environment.

I only know this because the girls’ cycle-campaigning aunt has been brainwashing me for a number of years, but now I know, I can’t unknow it – and I can’t help comparing the school run in the Netherlands / Copenhagen / etc. with how it works here. Cycling to school for us means either cycling on pavements, with all the stopping and waiting, and going up and down kerbs at every side road, and  endless whingeing from the Cutester who is allergic to gravity. The alternative would be allowing my fragile spindly children on their tiny bikes to wobble along next to HGVs… It might surprise you to learn that I choose the pavement option. This is so much slower (about 30-40 minutes to school) than proper uninterrupted road cycling (about 15-20 minutes) that we can manage it at most once a week. **

The good news is that our borough is one of three outer London boroughs to be granted £30 million each for Dutch-style cycle infrastructure. If the local shopkeepers don’t manage to scupper the whole thing (they are objecting to the possible loss of some parking spaces on the high street), this could be great. At the moment too many people are driving their children to school because they’re not being offered an alternative that actually works.

In the meantime, we have scooters. On this glorious sunny morning we scooted along the pavement, picking up a friend’s child en route who I normally drive to school on a Thursday, uphill all the way – and the Cutester didn’t whinge once.

* Get some here:

**And yet, check out the photo of a section of our route to school – does that not cry out ‘BUILD A CYCLE PATH HERE’ to you?


12 thoughts on “Day Four: Space for cycling*

  1. I have been cycling all week. So proud of myself. Less gets done and I need to plan the day a lot more to make it a constructive and useful trip. But the girls love it. I do resort to a few pavements as pulling two children behind me is hardwork! But I do remember a cycle ride at six am… To school from muswell hill to finchley central and a police man made me cycle on the crazy road as the wide pavement was for people walking …the people still being all asleep! Which put me off my cycle joy! Did I mention I cycle slower than I walk! So mean mean! Keep going. I like life slow and simple.

  2. Not sure on the whole, but I was extremely chuffed when one mum told me she’s started walking with her kids to school. We certainly have the weather for it right now 🙂

    • Aha, so that’s where your blog is Sara! Great stuff, and thanks for mentioning me :-). Interesting what you say about pavements, and I respect your plea for respecting others. And maybe if we just got on the road, we’d be at school quicker and I’d hear less whining from the 7-year-old. It’s just that I can’t face the thought of what might happen to the girls in traffic – we cycle past a fatal accident spot with flowers taped to the lamppost and it makes me shudder. At the same time, the pavement has abundant room for cyclists to keep out of pedestians’ way, so it feels like a no-brainer. The only possible solution I can think of – since the 10-year-old is fairly competent on a bike – is put the little on a tag-along behind me and deck us all out like Christmas trees.

      • My experience is that cars will go a mile to avoid kids on childseats, trailers, and especially on their own bikes (which goes back to my point about forgiving infra).

        I know it goes against our instincts as mothers to put our kids in what appears to be a dangerous situation, but a lot of it also comes back to how we assess risk – long term versus short term/immediate versus delayed effect.

        Not sure what to say about whining 7yos – I’m wondering what my youngest will be like in a few years too… a younger sibling myself, I suspect we find always being slowest hard to take.

  3. I’m always up for borrowing a fun bike to try out – actually getting a tandem would mean also buying somewhere to store it of course, but I’m open to being convinced. The other option is to get myself my own bike (husband’s is a bit too high for me if I attach anything to the saddle post) and one of those bars that connects a child’s bike to an adult’s at the rear. Reviews on Amazon say you can use it to get the child up the worst hills, then take it off and put in your backpack to let the child cycle on their own. Any opinions welcome!

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