Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Do the British love their children too ?

It's a rhetorical question - of course they do. However, it does not always look much like it. Today I read in the Cambridge Evening News about how following a crash which involved two children going to school in Cambridgeshire on a dangerous road, a school bus has been laid on for others with the same route. However, this has resulted in the bus being withdrawn for another 57 children and they will have to make a similarly dangerous journey by other means.

The truly absurd thing about this is that the distances involved are so short. Sawston to Great Shelford was my commute for nearly two years when I lived in that area. It's a distance of under three miles ( 5 km ). These children should all be able to cycle that distance, and this is where they are really being let down. Why is it that British people put up with conditions on their roads which put their children in danger ?

And as cycling campaigners, where exactly do we expect the next generation of cyclists to come from if children can't ride their bikes such a short distance to school in safety ?

It's a societal problem, not just a cycling problem. And it's not the only societal problem that Britain faces. The UK has the second highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe (the USA has a rate much higher again), a high rate of drug abuse, a knife crime problem, a problem with out of control teens, and the highest rate of binge drinking in Europe. There is a relationship between the policies which make for safe cycling and the social policies which lead to a happy childhood. The top four countries for cycling are also the top four for childhood happiness. Compare the experiences of British children with those of Dutch children.

Whether you are British or not, how does your country measure up ? What are your roads for ?

My rhetorical question received an answer three years after this article was written.

A similar story came up a few months back. If the question in the title sounds vaguely familiar, that's perhaps because it's similar to the one posed in this 1980s pop song.

15 comments:

Kevin Love said...

In Toronto, children cycling to school is a major element of government policy. The Toronto District School Board just opened a new school, Brookside Public School. On the official TDSB web site it describes it thusly:

"Some of the features that Brookside possesses are a parking lot and bicycle rack area that have been specially designed to encourage walking and bicycle riding to school"

Source:

http://www.tdsb.on.ca/about_us/media_room/Room.asp?show=TDSBgreen&view=detailed&enableNav=true&self=8405

Adrienne Johnson said...

It happens all over the place. Here is another fine example of taking a reasoned approach and just going with what is easy-
http://www.flickr.com/photos/cold_iron/3025731535/

Bike Jax said...

Perhaps the problem could solved if they were taught how to "drive" their bikes. :-)

jayjay said...

Sounds like we have very similar issues down here in NZ. Shame that we pick up the BAD with the good when we imitate the UK. David - it's Bike Week here in NZ, and this morning was Bike to Breakfast - given free by the Auckland City Council. Check out Handlebra Easy Rider club blogsite for the two movies at the end and an idea of how it went. We can SOMETIMES look like we encourage biking.

David Hembrow said...

Kevin: I think it's officially government policy almost everywhere, including the UK. However, it needs to move past the level of initiatives etc. and be reflected in reality. Sadly, Canada isn't doing all that much better than the UK.

Adrienne: Thanks for the link (which is to a school publication using the slogan "go green" while simultaneously banning cycling to school). Get them to watch this video over and over again until they start to get it.

Bike Jax: You and I both know that that wouldn't help :-)

jayjay: I enjoyed your post. I don't remember seeing so many (or any) bikes in Queen Street.

Abhishek said...

There is an interesting article on Commute by Bike about the same issue: http://commutebybike.com/2009/02/18/ex-husband-prohibits-children-bike-riding/

David Hembrow said...

Abhishek, I'm not sure it's exactly the same, but it is certainly closely related.

There are some very odd responses to the post you provided the link to. Someone argues that as 60% of head injuries in the US are in car crashes and 3% from bike crashes as if this makes cycling sound safe. However, it's just a ratio of 20:1, while the ratio of journeys by car vs. bike in the US is at a ratio of around 90:1. I wouldn't use that as an argument for cycling being safe...

Americans are just as guilty of "not loving their children" as the British. That's why the streets there are as unsafe as they are (the US figure of 43000 deaths per year is about 14x the UK death rate, but the population is only 5x the size), why street design is all about the car, and why children are mostly kept away from the streets and have so little freedom.

However, it's not just the streets. If you follow the link to the report on childhood happiness, you'll note that while UNICEF put the UK at the bottom of the list of countries rated by child happiness, the US is right down there with the UK at second from the bottom.

townmouse said...

When children are killed on the road, there's normally enough of an outcry to get speed cameras and other speed-limiting measures put in - which are not cheap. Perhaps if that energy went into campaigning for separated bike and pedestrian paths instead, not only might we get a decent joined up network but the motorists would be happy too as the only thing they seem to loathe more than cyclists are speed cameras.

Of course, that would take a completely different attitude to risk than we have now in the UK so I'm not hopeful...

le homme au la velo said...

In Ireland most Children are Driven to School either by Cars and 4+4's or Buses,while they Live only up to 3 Kilometre away and could easily Walk or Cycle. A few Chldren do actually Cycle or Walk but these are not many.

Our Cycle Lanes are very Narrow like the UK,so not very Safe for Adults dont mind Children.

Simon Lee said...

Great post. Have you seen this?
http://www.nationalaccountsofwellbeing.org/public-data/files/national-accounts-of-well-being-report.pdf

David Hembrow said...

Thanks for that Simon. Another survey showing fairly similar results. Despite the vagueness of asking people's opinions in these surveys the results are quite consistent.

Philip Britton said...

My comment has less to do with road safety than my 10 year old daughter's strength. We are planning a holiday and she ccommented this morning that she would like to go cycling. What is a safe distance for a fairly fit 10 year old to cycle ? We are looking at a guided tour - gentle hills, quiet roads and a few tracks with lots of stopping to admire the views. The tour is 15km to 20 km and takes about 3 to 4 hours.

Simon Lee said...

Hi Phillip,

Generally, children can cycle as far as you can (albeit they'll take longer) as long as you can keep them happy. If they get bored they get tired, if they're uncomfortable (eg wet,cold,hungry,thirsty etc) they get tired - otherwise they are amazing machines of perpetual motion.

Philip said...

Thanks Simon, this is very interesting. We are going "training" at the weekend. My 13 year old did a 30 km (she claims) mountain trek in Chiang Mai recently. The organisers of the excusrsion (in Phuket) say that it is not suitable for under 12s, but I think this may be Thais being ultra cautious. I will see how she goes with distances and some off road tracks. Incidentally, interested in your comments about clinate change. We are also trying to do something here in Thailand but from a very different perspective via the UNFCCC Clean Development Mechanism.

David Hembrow said...

Simon, Philip,

I've also found our children would cycle quite a long way when young so long as there was sufficient interest in it for them. For instance, one daughter did a 45 km round trip in a day when she was six. The destination was a fair, and there were nice playgrounds on the outbound and return journeys. We didn't hurry, of course, and keep in mind that every child is different.

The route was not hilly. Also this was on a hard tarmac surface. Cycling is a lot slower and a lot more effort on gravel tracks etc. It is possible that the ride you are talking about has an age limit for reasons other than the distance covered.