Lucy Pegg and Chris Jarvis, Oxford city douncillors for the Green Party in Donnington and St Mary’s Wards, look at why more pupils are now riding and cycling to school.

There’s been a quiet revolution on the streets of East Oxford. Venture out at around 8.30 on a weekday morning and you’ll find the primary-school run is now cycle central.

There has been a gradual uptick in walking and cycling to school in recent years, but this academic year the change feels seismic. Since the start of term in September both St Mary & St John Primary School (SSMJ) and Larkrise Primary have seen a huge increase in the number of pupils and staff arriving by bike.

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Ellie Armstrong, Deputy Headteacher at SSMJ, says there’s been a significant shift in children cycling over the last couple of years. “We have a huge number of children cycling and walking to school. The last time we measured it was 82%, and I think it will be even higher now. This academic year, we’ve really run out of bike space for children, parents and for staff – and we’ve just ordered more stands.”

There’s been a similar shift at Larkrise Primary, where the number of children walking and cycling to school has jumped from 65% three years ago to 85% today. Chair of Governors Patrick Vale said, “Our bike racks have been overflowing since the start of the year. It’s excellent to see so much cycling – but our facilities haven’t caught up yet and we know we need more stands.”

Why has there been such a big change, so quickly? Larkrise has an official School Streets programme, where the roads directly around the school are closed to motor traffic at pick-up and drop-off time. SSMJ is waiting for theirs, but has already asked parents to stop driving down the hill. This makes it much safer for kids on foot, bike, and scooter.

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With the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) in place to make the wider catchment areas safe and accessible for young children on wheels or walking, it’s become the default choice. It’s much easier to get families starting in Reception to walk or cycle, than it is to persuade those who have got into the habit of driving to switch to active travel. With East Oxford’s streets feeling safe, this year’s reception intake have been empowered to walk and wheel to school.

Jane, 44, who has two children at SSMJ, says “It’s absolutely incredible now to watch so many kids walking, scooting and cycling down the hill. The school gates used to be really stressful and dangerous with cars manoeuvring everywhere, and it feels such a lot calmer now. There’s so many different types of bike and trailer and the bike racks of all sizes are always crammed.”

Oxford Mail: Research shows that children study better when they’ve walked or cycled to school rather than sat in the car. Moving around is better for their physical health too, and reduces their exposure to traffic fumes from the car in front. Switching the school run away from driving also reduces congestion and improves air quality for all. So the safer and easier it is for kids to walk and cycle to school, the better for everyone.

The good news is that Oxford’s “Park that Bike” scheme has allowed both schools to get free bike-rack planters which can be used for parent bike parking.

They add greenery to the school playground too. And as local city councillors, we’re contributing some of our ward funds to help the schools get more bike racks for both staff and pupils. We hope the school-run switch will continue across Oxford.

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About the author 

Andy is the Trade and Tourism reporter for the Oxford Mail and you can sign up to his newsletters for free here. 

He joined the team more than 20 years ago and he covers community news across Oxfordshire.

His Trade and Tourism newsletter is released every Saturday morning. 

You can also read his weekly Traffic and Transport newsletter.