Cyclist.ie very much welcomes the Safe Routes to School Programme announced jointly today by Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD, Minister for Education Norma Foley TD and Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton TD. See here for the Departmental Press Release on it.
Safe Routes to School were one of Cyclist.ie’s active travel asks for General Election 2020 (see image below) and we were pleased to see it included in the Programme for Government.
It is also priority number four of the eight priorities outlined in Cyclist.ie’s Rural Cycling Collective’s document Vision for Cycling in Rural Ireland: “Prioritise safe cycle routes to schools and car free zones at school gates”.
The statement by Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan that “Schoolchildren need more than hi- vis vests to get to schools safely. They need proper infrastructure to make walking cycling and scooting a practical choice for families” is most welcome. Also welcome is the recognition by Minister for Education Norma Foley that “Being active is a key component of wellbeing”.
However, while expenditure of €15 million this year seems like a good start to a Safe Routes to School scheme, the aim of providing routes to over 100 schools in 2021 falls well short of what is required. There are almost 4,000 first and second level schools in Ireland, so allowing for a roll-out of 100 safe routes annually it will take 40 years to fulfil Minister of State Naughton’s hope that over time “every student in every village, town and city, can safely travel to and from school be it by foot/scooter or bike”.
In reality we know that many schools are situated adjacent to one other and that therefore the same route will often serve more than one school. However, that still leaves a considerable time-lag before all schools can be provided with safe routes. In order to accelerate the process, Cyclist.ie suggests that Healthy Ireland and Climate Action Funding should also be made available for the Safe Routes to School programme. Active Travel is certainly a transport issue but it is also a health and a climate issue.
For the implementation of routes, consultation with parents and with children themselves will be important to ensure that their needs are met – for example in regard to suitable cycle / scooter parking provision at each school and disability requirements.
Cyclist.ie strongly recommends the use of quiet streets as one aspect of the Safer Routes to School approach, and explaining to both residents and parents that this provision is for school-children to cycle safely to/from school, and not a race track for commuter cyclists.
Furthermore, attractive and clearly branded materials, such as the pencil barriers and coloured stickers on roads should be designed for national use, so that the messages are clear to all. The emphasis needs to be on a shift away from helmet wearing and hi-vis, and instead focus on safe and clearly marked cycling / walking infrastructure – and it needs to be done in conjunction with standard 30 km/hr speed limits around all schools.