Teenagers get new taste for cycling with more riding to school - Alastair Dalton

It’s autumn, the schools are back and transport is getting back to its bad old normal.

Friday, 18th September 2020, 7:00 am
More cycling during lockdown may have encouraged more pupils to ride to school.
More cycling during lockdown may have encouraged more pupils to ride to school.

Car traffic in the first week of September was just 10 per cent lower than a year ago while bus and train use remained 50-70 per cent down.

Walking trips reduced by more than one third, and cycling rates remain unchanged.

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For ministers who poured £30 million into widened pavements and extra cycle lanes during lockdown, it will have been depressing reading.

A new Glasgow city centre cycle lane created during lockdown

With many office staff still working from home, the trend could become even worse when more return to their desks, understandably nervous about public transport, a travelling environment they cannot control.

Meanwhile, the publication this week of official figures for how we travelled last year reinforces how far Scotland is from being in a good place.

For all the measures taken to encourage us to change our ways, its commuting figures yet again demonstrate our stubbornness in continuing to drive to work over the last 20 years.

But alarmingly, while the overall numbers haven’t changed, more of us are driving (up from 55 to 63 per cent) than getting a lift (down from 12 to 5 per cent).

It is true there has been a proportionately big increase in the number of people cycling to work over that period – 1.7 to 2.7 per cent.

However, cycling still only accounts for 1.2 per cent of all journeys, which is unchanged on 2012 and contrasts sharply with ministers’ “vision” for 10 per cent by this year.

By comparison, since 2012 the number of journeys made by car or van went up from 48 to 53 per cent.

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Amidst all this gloom, I can report on a glimmer of light, involving an age group for whom cycling has traditionally started to lose its appeal.

Campaigners have expressed concern at the fall-off in cycling rates as children move from primary to secondary school, when they become more aware of their self-image, in which riding is often no longer seen as cool.

While 2 per cent of primary school children cycled to school last year, the rate was half that among secondary pupils.

However, I’ve heard anecdotal evidence from secondary schools in Glasgow, Falkirk, Renfrewshire and Clackmannanshire of an increase in cycling since they reopened last month.

In some cases, this has led schools to seek out more space for bike storage.

Some of the schools reckon the rise is a knock-on from more people cycling during lockdown when the streets were far quieter than normal, making them safer and more pleasant for children and families to venture out.

There is also a theory that some pupils may have decided to cycle to school rather than go by bus, as they did in the past, because of Covid concerns or due to services being curtailed.

Experts said if the increase is confirmed as a trend it would be a significant and positive step.

But some parts of Scotland are still enjoying an Indian summer that is often a welcome September feature, and cycling could become decidedly less appealing in the wet and cold that’s likely to follow.

In the meantime, secondary schools should embrace and champion the trend.

Rather than seeing it as a logistical problem from being swamped by bikes, they should celebrate the benefits of cycling to both pupil health and the wider environment since the institutions are key players in their communities in additional to being major traffic generators.

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