School run targeted

2nd July 1999 at 01:00
It puts one in five cars on the road at rush hour but is an endangered species. Chris Bunting reports

THE pressure on schools to stop children travelling by car has increased with the publication this week of new government guidance promoting cycling and walking.

Ministers have teamed up with the green pressure group Transport 2000 to publish A Safer Journey to School, part of a wider effort to curb the notorious school run, which makes up a fifth of all rush-hour traffic.

Government officials are testing a car-sharing database for parents and sophisticated route-mapping software has been sent out to schools with the aim of cutting school traffic by a third, or 300,000 journeys a day.

As many as 220 children will be killed or seriously injured on Britain's roads during Road Safety Week, starting on Monday. But convincing parents to abandon their cars may be more difficult than ministers imagine, according to teachers already trying to deal with the problem.

Gwil Williams, humanities co-ordinator at Horndean community school, Hampshire, said two years of effort and pound;100,000 funding had produced only a 5 per cent drop in car use. "The target is slightly optimistic. It is going to be a long haul," he said.

Horndean, a comprehensive of about 1,800 pupils, has been given pound;100,000 by the county council to develop safe routes for pedestrians and cyclists. Segregated cycle and pedestrian paths and a pelican crossing have already been built and more traffic calming measures are being tested.

Two bicycle sheds with closed-circuit television surveillance to protect 250 bicycles are being installed.

The issue has been fully integrated into the curriculum, with geography students tracking traffic problems on sophisticated mapping software sponsored by the Ordinance Survey. Youngsters were taken to Denmark last year to look at car reduction schemes there and a group of pupils and teachers meets regularly to discuss ways forward.

But, while the number of students cycling to school has increased from fewer than 90 in 1996 to about 200, some of this shift has been among pupils who were never driven to school in the first place.

Celia Beeson of sustainable transport promoters Sustrans, who have been supporting Horndean's project, said the Government's target was not a short-term possibility. "Initially, most of the Government's work about reducing traffic will have to be about slowing the current increase. That in itself would be an achievement," she said.

Danny Moloney, headteacher at George Abbot School, in Guildford, Surrey said his governors had set a target of converting four of every 10 pupils who came by car. But this was far from straightforward.

"It is an individual liberty thing in the end. We can suggest things, we can encourage things, but to get people to act on it is more difficult," he said.

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