WITH the school run accounting for 20 per cent of congestion, and issues around air quality and safety around the school gate – tackling the use of the private car for the school run must be a priority.

However, in the UK children are far less likely to walk, scoot or cycle to school than they did 30 years ago. As parents, we seem to be caught in a blindingly obvious Catch 22. Our fears around the safety of our children out on the streets result in the very behaviour that makes those streets less safe. Issues of road safety and stranger danger would be directly ameliorated if fewer people drove and more people cycled or walked. However, we do the reverse, climb into the metal boxes of security and familiarity – drive the short distance and put issues of air pollution, obesity and childhood independence to the backs of our minds.

How can we create that feeling of security and safety which would enable more people to walk or cycle to school?

In Edinburgh, six primary schools took part in a pilot scheme of road closures, which have now become permanent. These rely on volunteer time to supervise the road closures, and schools have been requesting police support to issue tickets to drivers who flaunt the ban. In Camden, London, temporary bollards are put up to close an 800-metre stretch of road during the school run. The road and its pavements are very narrow. The move was made on road safety concerns but it has reduced the number of children arriving by car by 50 per cent.

Reducing traffic near schools is one thing but providing safe routes is more challenging. For this you need to ensure that nearby major routes are fully segregated; the acid test of cycling infrastructure is whether you would be happy for an eight-year-old to ride alone on it. Exactly what this looks like will depend on the circumstances of each school: 58.4 per cent of children travel to The Cherwell School by bike, making it the UK’s number one school for cycling. It is no coincidence that the school is served with a fully segregated cycle track leading to its gates, and a full programme of fun cycling activities and support for safe cycling.

Many schools join in with challenges to walk, scoot or cycle to school which raises awareness and enthusiasm. Schools also need to embrace active travel wholeheartedly, and ensure they send consistent messages across the curriculum. I have seen bike permits that omit the ‘well done you are making a positive different to yourself and society’ aspect and focus on helmets, locks and playground riding.

Recently a school in Nottingham banned all children from cycling to school. The letter to parents stated that there had be a recent doubling in numbers of children cycling to school – again no ‘well done’, just a litany of complaints about the behaviour of a few teenagers on bikes, and a blanket ban on cycling to school whilst the trouble-makers were being dealt with.

Sorting out routes, calming traffic and sending positive messages would all contribute to more people travelling by foot or bike to school, improving the health of future generations.