The outdoor gym for kids. Price of membership? Zip. Yet so few engage in it.
A largely empty bike shelter. The only bike in it is ours, Evelyn’s pride and joy. I contemplated this as she dashed away to join her friends in the yard. It’s true that a reasonable number of parents walk or scoot their kids to the school. It’s equally true that a traffic jam of parents – hopefully I’ve coined a new phrase there – deposit their kids from plastic interiors and deliver them straight to the mouth of the school (and I kid not; some cars circle to deposit their child as close to the school gates as possible, without actually ploughing through them). Granted, everyone’s circumstances are different, but where primary schools are concerned, parents generally don’t have to travel too far.
The reasons for this behaviour are multitude and well documented, but as we rode to school on that crisp Thursday morning one factor jumped out in particular; the faded remnants of old cycle lane markings, brought a sharp reminder that in an area approximately 1 mile square and home to 3 primary schools and the largest High school in Wales, there is almost no cycle provision at all. I reckon that’s somewhere in the region of 2000 children not encouraged to cycle, despite living in a compact village area on the fringes of a capital city.
To reduce our preoccupation with the combustion engine, the culture change needs to start with the young. We all know traffic reduces and enjoys improved flows when cars are swopped for bikes. We all know that kids get less exercise now than at any time in our history and that increasing obesity levels are a problem. Yet knowledge is not twinned with action and while the traffic backs up, the pounds pile on.
The absence of cycle lanes is of course, a problem. To some, they are enablers, marking the difference between perceived safety or greater risk. However the absence of lanes should not prevent parents from choosing cycling over driving. A little bit of planning and savinness goes a long way. Combine pavement with the road; If the road is busy and the pavement empty, keep your child on the pavement if it makes you more comfortable. If the pavement gets busy, hop off the road and walk the bike on the pavement alongside your child (who may also need to walk). The time penalty is negligible. As the road clears – or you enter onto a side street – guide your child back onto the road and keep them in front of you. Ride slightly wider to provide protection/an obvious visible cue that a child is riding. The only caveat among this advice is do use your common sense and road awareness, picking roads than avoid main arterial roads. After your child is at the school, you can bask in the reflected glory of having done your bit for everyone. Later still, bore everyone to tears with it and keep bleating on about cycle lanes. The more voices that join the chorus, the louder the song.
Anyway. Let’s forget about logistics, safe practise and campaigning. Let’s get back to fun, healthy activity and our outdoor gym. The price of entry? A bike. The benefits? Get around fast. Avoid traffic. Get fit. Bond more with your child as you experience the wind in your helmet and the shared knowledge that you’re setting them up for a healthy future. The best bit? No direct debits needed.