What is the safest, healthiest and most sustainable way for children to get to school in Ireland?
Studies discussed in the Irish news in late 2019 found that the air quality outside schools can be rather toxic during drop-off and pick up times, as parents sit in cars with the engine running while waiting for their kids.
Given that most kids get to school by car, and this number is increasing year on year, you can imagine the scale of the problem. And of course, there are other implications of this trend; children always being driven to school has environmental and health impacts.
Parents are part of the problem but they are also driving the solutions. Here are three ideas that have been helping to get kids to school in a safe, environmentally friendly and healthy way, that might be worth copying in your community:
School Streets directly addresses the air quality problem by banning cars from the school gate. Instead, the streets in front of schools are turned into playgrounds for a couple of hours. The idea was first tested in Hackney, London (see video below) and has recently been piloted by 8 80 Cities in Toronto, Canada which also published a guide on how to get this venture started.
In Malahide, the first School Street launched in November 2019. A section of Grove Road outside St. Oliver Plunkett’s National School in Malahide restricted car access around school drop-off and pick-up times, Mondays to Fridays during school terms.
#schoolstreets Day 1 thank you to all involved. Hopefully the start something new for kids going to school safely. @AndrewNolan5 @niamhyruss @MayorEOB @GrainneCarroll8 @Fingalcoco @alavin1 pic.twitter.com/EbGAOIiERI
— Dave storey (@davestorey18) November 18, 2019
As air quality in the vicinity of St Oliver Plunkett’s has improved by 20% since the introduction of this scheme, the council has already decided to extend the programme to other schools.
The Cycle Bus
What if your kids could just cycle to school? With the ‘Cycle Bus’ children get picked up by supervising parents on bikes and cycle to school together in a big group. The idea is successfully up and running in Galway. And when you see it in action, it becomes clear why it works.
A big group of kids on bikes is much easier to see for cars than just one or two. An average of 16 children join the cycle bus every day.
Alan Curran, who started the idea in Galway, took a very simple approach to get started, as he told the Irish Times:
“I spoke to a couple of parents in my estate, as they had children in the same school, and they liked the idea of all the children in the estate cycling in together with parents so there was safety in numbers. As we chatted more, my ambition for the idea grew.”
In Dublin, Ennis and Limerick parents have already copied the idea and Alan told us there are 4 more in the planning stages in Sligo, Waterford, Cork and another in Dublin.
1. Crossing the river is still the biggest barrier to active commuters on the north side of the city. Without the community effort of the cycle bus this journey would not be possible for these family's. We can only imagine the amount potential cyclists that are put off by this! pic.twitter.com/NKaYFDClGh
— Limerick School Cycle Bus (@CyclingBusLmk) January 9, 2020
The Walking School Bus
For those who have a slightly shorter journey to school, the same idea works just as well on foot.
In a Walking School Bus a group of children walks to school with adult supervision. It can be as informal as two families taking turns walking their children to school or as structured as a route with meeting points, a timetable and a regularly rotated schedule of volunteers. We’ve got a guide to starting the Walking School Bus on ChangeX.
In Canada, the Walking School Bus is called Trotti Bus. It’s run by the Canadian Cancer Society, who have also published a great guide for starting the initiative.
In California in the U.S., the organization Safe Routes to School took it a step further with the “Playful Walking School Bus” and added “play on the way” opportunities for several existing walking school bus routes.
In 2019 Green-Schools organised the “Walk to School Week” in Ireland. But wouldn’t it be great if it was Walk to School Week every week?