Why cycling and other active travel for schools is important

Even though the majority of children in Wales live within a short distance of their school, cycling and active travel take-up generally is quite low. Officially “Cycling to school is relatively rare, with fewer than 1% cycling to primary school or secondary school on a typical day”. In the Netherlands 49% of all primary school children cycle to school.

Cardiff Cycle City wants to help parents, guardians, teachers, Governors and pupils overcome the barriers that are stopping more children getting on their bikes.

So why is this so important?

Well, there’s lots of evidence that children are not getting the amount of exercise they need. The medical and Welsh Government recommendation is that they should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Currently only 20% of boys and 11% of girls achieve this. This is contributing to an increase in obesity and diseases such as diabetes. Sadly, just over a quarter of children in Wales (26.2%) are overweight or obese, the highest level in the UK. Swapping the drive to school for a bike ride is an easy, repeatable way of building exercise into a child’s daily routine.

The NHS cite that it’s medically proven that people who do regular physical activity significantly lower the risk of a number of conditions.

Regular physical activity lowers the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke by 35%, type 2 diabetes by 50%, colon cancer by 50%, breast cancer by 20%, osteoarthritis by 83%, hip fracture by 68%, depression and dementia by 30% and early death by 30%. Furthermore, it helps children develop a sense of independence and gets them into the habit of healthy everyday exercise rather than an ingrained reliance on the car.

Research has shown that children who cycle, scoot or walk to school are more likely to arrive alert and ready to learn. This means they get more out of their lessons. It helps combat anxiety, stress and obesity (and thus future strain on the NHS). In all ages it promotes wellbeing, fitness, happiness, longer life expectancy and helps build social networks and communities whilst boosting the local economy.

More children, parents and guardians cycling means fewer cars, so less local pollution and better air quality. Cardiff has a major problem with air quality and cars are a significant contributor.

An estimated 5% of deaths in Cardiff and the Vale are due to particulate matter air pollution.

Worryingly, over 2,000 schools and nurseries in England and Wales are within 150 metres of a road with illegal levels of air pollution. Cycling and other active travel can help alleviate this, plus end the frequent (and dangerous) traffic chaos around school gates in the morning which is a cause of major stress for teachers, school staff, neighbours, parents and children.

As Cardiff continues to grow and traffic congestion and pollution worsens Cardiff Council are working towards a target of 50% of all journeys being made by bike, on foot or by public transport by 2026. You don’t have to do it every day.

Even a switch to cycling to and from school for just one day a week means 20% more exercise and 20% less pollution!

Across the UK as a whole, the motorised school run has been calculated to generate two million tonnes of CO2 every year. The more we do locally in Cardiff the more we contribute to lower carbon emissions and combating global warming across the planet our children will inherit.

Lastly, don’t overlook that getting to school by bike is just plain good fun!