Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cycling to School in the Future?

According to a report from BUPA, future parents (that is, people aged 18-30 who are planning to have a family but haven't got around to it yet because they're up to their eyes in debt) are keen for their as-yet-unborn offspring to watch less telly and take more exercise than today's kids, and to walk or cycle to school.

It's a shame the study hasn't measured the aspirations of today's parents. I think most parents would like their kids to walk or cycle to school, but what with one thing and another it doesn't quite work out. Partly it's time pressures, but equally it's safety concerns.

Unless I miss my guess, when tomorrow's parents' children actually reach the age where they can cycle to school on their own, the UK's cycle infrastructure will be much as it is today. In other words, not safe enough to give most parents confidence that their progeny will arrive at the school rather than the hospital. And those parents will simply accept that the world is the way it is, it's simply not safe for children to cycle, and that's an end to it. We all like the idea of children cycling to school, up to the point where it's our children cycling on infrastructure that is some combination of intermittent, unsafe, badly designed or simply non-existent.
Let's think for a moment though about what else will have changed in fifteen or twenty years time, when the next generation of children are going through school. For one thing, the UK should have significantly reduced its carbon emissions, and oil may be significantly more expensive. Therefore it's not unreasonable to think that children won't be travelling to school in cars in the same numbers as they do today: they'll likely be using active modes of travel instead. And that would be a good thing: it would free up parents' time, reduce costs and make children fitter and healthier.

So it would seem that current and future parents aspire to have more kids cycling to school, and this would bring many benefits to the UK in terms of better public health, reduced carbon emissions, and so on. It would also appear, based on entirely mainstream projections, that children will need to cycle to school. Yet there's no plan to make it possible by building cycle infrastructure that parents will be happy with. Most cycle infrastructure projects are hamstrung by lack of money. For example, London's Biking Boroughs project is £4M, divided between 13 boroughs. There ares also no coherent national or even local plans for cycling. There's no national body in charge of cycling, and in London there is no capital-wide responsibility - TfL is in charge of the TfL road network, and individual boroughs oversee their own roads.  For infrastructure projects that get beyond the drawing board, there's a labyrinthine planning process to contend with , which allows public enquiries to be ordered in response to even a single objection to a proposed cycle path, and allows trivial parochial concerns such as convenient car parking to veto a proposal. Contrast this with the High Speed 2 development. Truly eye-watering sums of money (£17bn) are being invested, there's a (reasonably) grand vision to back it up, and objections are being ridiculed as 'nimbyism'.

Don't get me wrong. Rail does matter. But there are a lot more journeys to school each day than there will be journeys on HS2. Why is it that journeys to school don't matter?

1 comment:

  1. I'll tell you why, as part of HS2 there will be plenty of companies making a lot of money for a long time, with a lot of nice board directorship positions to be filled (wink, wink). Reasonable bike lanes provide none of that, at least not on the same scale. And the phallic significance of a thrusting bullet train hardly needs to be emphasised. Kids on bikes? Not quite as sexy.