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: http://lcc.org.uk/pages/space-for-cycling
**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?