Projects urge pupils to get on their bikes

Linda Blackburne looks at three schemes to ease school run traffic and get children back on their feet.

Parents in car-choked Surrey are to be asked to leave their motors at home and help the pioneering council spend Pounds 100,000 on safe walking and cycling routes to schools.

In the bicycle-friendly city of York, Leeds sculptor Charles Quick is helping children at Burnholme Community College to design and build a secure bike shed. And at the University of Wales, PhD student Daphne Evans is helping secondary school children to think about road safety through drama.

These projects are three examples of attempts to decrease the number of children killed on the roads every year: at 300, it is 50 times the number murdered by strangers.

One of the main critics of Britain's car culture is Sustrans, a charity that designs and builds traffic-free routes for cyclists, walkers and people with disabilities.

It says that up to 20 per cent of peak-hour traffic in the UK is caused by the school run. Department of Transport statistics show that a combination of traffic-calming measures and 20mph speed limits results in a 67 per cent decrease in accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists.

The charity has published three documents on safe routes to schools, including an eight-page guide offering practical advice on how to establish walking and cycling pathways.

Sustrans said: "In the past 20 years the proportion of seven- to eight-year-olds allowed to travel to school without adult supervision has fallen from 80 per cent to less than 10 per cent.

"The growth of sedentary lifestyles, led by many children, has damaging consequences for both the health and transport sectors. Research has shown that where safe routes are provided, parents and children are happy to use them. "

Ten years ago, Denmark had the worst cycle and pedestrian accident record for children in western Europe. A safe routes to schools programme was set up in Odense, and the accident rate fell by 80 per cent.

The Surrey initiative is the first time a council has concentrated the whole of a bid to the department on safe routes. Dave Sharpington, Surrey's cycling officer, said the council would be challenging schools, parents and residents to think up innovative ideas. Typical examples would include traffic-calming measures and safe houses to combat stranger danger on routes to schools.

Despite winning a Pounds 100,000 government grant, the county is not complacent. A pelican crossing alone costs Pounds 20,000, so Surrey is seeking private sponsorship to complement its grant.

At the University of Wales, Daphne Evans's research in the psychology department is about encouraging teenagers to question poor attitudes to road safety through drama. Year 11 pupils at Cefn Saeson comprehensive school in Neath, South Wales, helped to devise a play, It Could Be All Over For You, that depicts common road accidents through mime and music.

One of the most common problems, says Ms Evans, is teenagers walking to and from school in large groups which spill out on to the road. Boys, she adds, are twice as likely to have accidents as girls because they take more risks and because society has taught them it is "sad" for men to be safety-conscious.

A group of pupils from Burnholme Community College and Huntingdon school, who visited Odense recently, were able to see at first hand how a country with more car owners than Britain has persuaded its citizens to leave their vehicles at home. In Odense, 2 per cent of secondary pupils are taken to school by car compared with 25 per cent in this country.

In York, which competes with Cambridge for the nation's cycling crown, 10 per cent of children cycle to school, compared with 60 per cent in the Danish city.

In Leeds, more than 8,500 children gave the car the thumbs down during the first "Walk to School Week".

Sustrans project engineer Paul Osborne says there is an added impetus to set up pollution-free safe routes in the city because at one school, Temple Moor secondary in Halton, one in four pupils suffers from asthma.

Sustrans Routes for People, 35 King Street, Bristol BS1 4DZ. Tel: 0117 926 8893

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