Cycling to school is healthy but children need somewhere safe to store their bikes. Kevin Berry explores the options.
Encourage children to cycle to school and that nice Mr Prescott will be pleased - more room on the roads for his posh Jaguars! No, seriously, cycling to school will mean cleaner air, healthier children and schools that are no longer ringed by cars.
But where are the young riders to put their bicycles? Each bike will have cost pound;200 or more and there will be lots of costly goodies on it: lights, trip computers, tool kits, saddlebags. So the bicycles need a safe and secure area. Those shadowy havens for smokers and fancy-free teenagers that are still left over from the Sixties are simply no longer adequate.
Schools involved with the Sustrans' Safe Routes to Schools scheme, aimed at encouraging cycling and walking to school, planned for increased cycle parking when the scheme began. Sustrans (Sustainable Transport) is the national cycle path charity and the safe routes scheme began in 1995.
Cyclists arriving at Cams Hill secondary school in Fareham, Hampshire, put their machines in a cycle shed with wire mesh walls. The shed door can be locked by the school secretary from the comfort of her office and she has a monitor. The remote locking was supplied by a local security company.
At Temple Moor High school in Leeds, cyclists use a large, open-sided shelter of Danish design made by Vasco Designs. There are 30 stands, all of them usually in use, with two or three bikes locked to each stand. The shelter has a roof and is close to the school's main entrance where it is overlooked by half a dozen classrooms, some alert secretaries and a surveillance video camera. As an extra precaution, the shelter is lit when it is dark. "Getting children to come on bikes was rather like getting the first couple on to the dance floor," says senior teacher Bill White. "But now the shelter is being used."
Students at Temple Moor High must have a school permit to travel by bike, something suggested by Sustrans. Bicycles must be covered by their family's insurance and before they are allowed to ride to school they have to go over the journey with an adult cycle trainer from he Leeds authority's road safety team. The trainer will advise on the safest route for the child to follow.
Sustrans's safe routes project manager, Paul Osbourne, suggests not making helmets an issue with older children until a cycling culture has been well established. Compulsory wearing can be introduced in Year 7.
At Burnholme Community College, in York, more than 20 per cent of pupils cycle and use an Area 52 cycle shelter designed by the artist Charles Quick. It is attractive with its steel roof and blue mesh walls and it is treated with respect. Access is controlled from the school secretary's office and the only would-be vandal was caught on security camera - that made a deep impression!
The Burnholme pupils designed their own stands - a tyre-gripping version. Most commercially available tyre-gripping stands do not allow for the thickness of mountain bike tyres.
Many schools opt for the Sheffield design stands made by BEA, a simple steel rail to lean a bike against, but primary school children use smaller frame bikes that can fall through Sheffield stands. Primary schools involved with the safe routes scheme have had to design their own stands.
To help pay for a cycle shelter, Sustrans suggests contacting your local authority highways department or local engineering companies to set up a funding partner agreement. There are many environmental funding bodies, national and regional; find them by contacting Sustrans. The Department for Education and Employment is looking into ways of funding cycle shelters, so stand by for announcements.
Schools could make a start with a long chain slipped through everyone's bike frame: that will cost just a few pounds. The Danish shelter of Temple Moor High cost pound;15,000, the Area 52 shelter at York cost around pound;40,000. Both are there to stay and have successfully improved and revitalised a previously arid school landscape.
* Safe Routes to Schools is available from Sustrans, 35 King Street, Bristol BS1 4DZ, tel 0117 915 0100
* BEA , tel 01203 674817
* Vesco Designs, tel 01803 326161
* Child Accident Prevention Trust, tel 020 7608 3828, for bulk orders of low cost, high quality cycling helmets