In a positive result for today’s national Clean Air Day, and in apparent response to changes to our lives during the Coronavirus pandemic, more families are choosing to ‘park and stride’ – this means they’re parking further away from schools and walking for the rest of the journey.
According to figures from the city council, which have been released this week, which is also “Walk to School Week”, the number of children walking at least 10 minutes to school has gone up from 76% to 82%. The goal is to both improve children’s health and contribute towards better air quality.
The research also found that the number of car journeys being made to 11 primary schools have gone down from 19% to 13% since pupils returned after lockdown.
Alongside these changes, there has been a recorded increase in interest of cycling to school. The charity Sustrans asked 1,400 local parents about how they get their kids to school. They found that 48% of parents would like their children to cycle to school, although 26% said that they would only allow it if there was less traffic around the schools, and 25% said they would like safer cycle and scooter parking at the schools themselves.
In response to these requests, Leicester City Council has said that they will be installing new cycle shelters and scooter pods at three city schools with known demand for such facilities – Sandfield Close Primary School, Mayflower Primary School and Oaklands School.
£25,000 is being spent on these new facilities. They will provide storage for 92 bicycles and scooters. Installation of these shelters will happen during half-term which takes place from 19 October.
Natalie Sutton, school business manager at Sandfield Close Primary School, said: “We’re really pleased that we’ll be getting more secure parking space for cycles and scooters, as this will help to encourage even more of our pupils to choose active travel to get to school. There is a real need for these facilities and once they’re in place we know they will be well-used. Reducing the amount of cars at the school gates keeps children safer, cuts congestion and helps make our whole school community happier.
“Due to covid, more and more of our families are wanting to explore alternative modes of transport to and from school such as cycling or scooting to school. The additional secure parking the city council has kindly installed will enable us to offer them more options, which will hopefully help families to change their method of transport not just for now but long-term.”
Deputy city mayor for environment and transportation, Cllr Adam Clarke, said: “These positive figures around walking and cycling to school reinforce that we are on the right track with our ambitions to encourage more active travel right across the city. For schoolchildren, the positive habits they learn now – about making shorter journeys by bike or foot – could stay with them for life.
“That’s why we’re happy to provide secure cycle and scooter parking for these schools, and hope to do so at more schools in the future. As part of our covid-19 transport plans, we have also helped schools by introducing street closures, widening pavements and extending no-waiting zones to manage traffic at the school gates more effectively.
“As Clean Air Day approaches, it reminds us all of the importance of doing our bit to improve air quality and help tackle the climate emergency.”
Popular puppet mascot Clean Air Clive has also been making appearances today for Clean Air Day. Clive helps to educate children about air quality along with the city council’s air quality education officer, Danielle Kennell. Together, with support from Sustrans, they will be making a film showing some of the changes the council has made outside schools to help keep cars away from the school gates.
Danielle said: “Clive was a big hit with school pupils and teachers alike, so I’m delighted to be bringing him back in film! I’m sure he will have a big impact and enjoy spreading messages about air quality to children in a fun way that they can easily understand.”
The film will then be used in assemblies to teach more children about air quality, and will be shared on social media.
To find out more about air quality, read the city council’s Air Quality Action Plan.
The council is also encouraging the people of Leicester to find out more about active transport, cycling routes or walking to school, and tips for planning a healthy journey at www.choosehowyoumove.co.uk
By Sam Ellison