Five E’s That Can Bring Back Bicycle To School

Our cities are fast becoming a society of obese children living in polluted neighbourhood. Cycling to school is often mentioned as a great way to get kids active and reduce number of cars on the road.

However, the prospect of cycling to school is terrifying for most parents because the roads often aren’t safe and air quality is poor. Imagine today’s parents during their high school days in the early 1990s — when all roads were accessible and they cycled to parks, friend’s house, rode bicycle with friends without a second thought.

But what happened between the millennium and now? Children lost bicycle to school.

Once upon a time, every household in Odisha used to have a bicycle. Now it’s down to 72.5% compared to the national average of 50.4%, as per NFHS-V (2021-22) report.

Too much carbs and fat intake, as well as lack of exercises are the reasons behind 23% of women being overweight (in urban area it’s 40.1%) and 22.2 % men overweight (in urban area 32%).

In Bhubaneswar, the message is clear – there’s the necessity for active mobility, which includes cycling and walking. Or do you stand up and demand that your child has the right to cycle safely to school? After all, in The Netherlands 49% of primary school children and over 75% of secondary school pupils bicycle to school. Informal studies have found that less than 10% kids here go to school in bicycle.

But how do you go about this? Every school is different and there is no single solution to fit all cases. However, lots of work has already been done to make it easier to cycle to school.

Bicycle to school programmes are a great way to help kids get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day. A bicycle to school programme is great for schools to promote active transportation along with a social opportunity for parents and students to connect outside school hours and allow students to improve their bicycle safety skills.

Active trips to school enable children to incorporate regular physical activity they need each day while also forming healthy habits that can last a lifetime. Regular physical activity helps children build strong bones, muscles and joints, and decreases the risk of obesity. Insufficient physical activity, on the other hand, can contribute to chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke.

Research recommends that children and adolescents get at least one hour or more of physical activity each day. Physically active kids are more likely to become healthy and physically active adults, hence it’s important to develop the habit of regular physical activity at an early age.

Even when parents decide to lace up their sneakers or strap their helmets to get to school instead of riding in a car or vehicle, they help reduce the amount of air pollutants emitted by automobiles. Vehicles emit a variety of air pollutants, resulting in increase in ground-level ozone, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter such as particles of dust, soot, smoke, dirt and liquid droplets.

Parents and adults sometimes worry about children’s safety on way to or from school and don’t feel comfortable letting young ones travel to school alone or with strangers. Parents often fear accident or assault.

While the actual occurrences are extremely rare, it’s important to deal with both perceptions and documented problems and to create a plan that will minimize risk. Instead of moving with vehicles, parents can pedal with children to school. Some communities across the globe have started bicycle to school using bicycle buses.

Bicycle school buses are groups of children who pedal on designated routes to school under adult supervision, picking up kids along the way just like a bus. For some neighbourhoods, it’s a casual group cycling, while others set up a formal plan with adults scheduled to cycle on certain days of the week.

Benefits of cycling to school include reducing number of private vehicles and morning traffic around the school. Less traffic congestion also improves conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists, creating a progressive environment for cycling.

The common goal of improving conditions for bicycling brings families, neighbours, school officials and community leaders together. The sense of community also builds as children and parents develop walking and cycling buddies, and chat with neighbours on way to schools or while returning home.

Similarly, communities with higher rates of walking tend to have lower crash rates for all travel modes. One reason may be that motorists drive more cautiously when they expect to encounter school children in bicycles. More cyclists can also improve personal security by acting like CCTV or more “eyes on the street.”

From the economics point of view, encouraging and enabling active trips reduces costs for the family, community and school. Families save on fuel, communities spend less on building and maintaining roads, parking lots and schools spend less on buses. Enabling students of all abilities to walk and cycle to school makes it easier for everyone in the community to get around, including parents with strollers, senior citizens, residents without cars and residents with temporary or permanent mobility impairments. Similarly, investments in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure can increase home values and direct additional traffic to local businesses.

Bicycle to school programme has to be to be structured around 5 E’s of safe routes to school — Education, Encouragement, Engineering, Enforcement and Evaluation.

Education – To teach pedestrian and bicycle safety.

Encouragement – To promote active transportation through actions, such as walking and cycling to school.

Engineering – To improve the environment to be more conducive for walking and biking.

Enforcement – To improve safety through partnership with law enforcement.

Evaluation – To assess, plan and implement programmes that will improve participation and safety.

In an ideal world, every school would have a safe cycle route from every home all the way to the door. This is something we should all aspire to. However, these are just some of the many things that can be done to help increase cycling to school.

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