As Council Pushes Walking and Cycling to School, Results Are Mixed

On Monday afternoon, Sarah McCormack had just parked her car to collect her young son, Rory, from St Patrick’s Primary School in Drumcondra.

She would probably take the car for the drop-off and pick-up for the rest of the week, too, she said, depending on the weather. “We live over in Glasnevin, beside the cemetery, which is a bit of a longer trek,” she says.

Public transport would mean two buses, she says. When the weather is decent, they switch to razor scooters, with Rory in tow.

Many parents in the area opt for walking and cycling, says McCormack. “It’s not unusual around here, at least.”

A Mixed Picture

Central Statistics Office data gives a mixed picture of trends in the number of kids who cycle or walk to school across the city.

In 2011, 47.9 percent of children between 5 and 12 years old walked to school in Dublin city and 3.3 percent went by bike. That was out of a total of 39,328 children in that age bracket.

In 2016, the percentage of children between 5 and 12 years old who walked to school dropped a bit, to 45.9 percent, while the number who cycled rose to 3.9 percent. That was out of a total of 42,253 children – so the fall in walkers in percentage terms was still an increase in real terms.

It’s a similarly mixed picture for teenagers. In 2011, 42.2 percent of teenagers travelled to school on foot and 7.3 percent went by bike. That was out of a total of 27,265.

In 2016, the percentage of teenagers who travelled on foot fell to 36.7 percent, while the percentage who cycled rose to 8.6 percent. That was out of a total of 28,476.

Spreading the Word

“On a wet day we clog up the traffic throughout Beaumont,” says Kieran Creaner of the cars that arrive during the school run.

The principal of St Fiachra’s Senior National School in Beaumont in Dublin 9, he estimates that about 50 percent of the children who go there, aged 9 to 12, are driven each day.

He would back an attitude change, he says. While there are parents coming by car “from quite a distance”, many are also “coming from within a mile radius. That’s the problem. There’s no excuse for it.”

Kreaner says that promotion and training initiatives need to be funded, all the time, to make sure schoolchildren walk and cycle more.

Sarah Scannell, Dublin City Council’s cycling and walking officer, was budgeted €100,000 in 2017 to promote cycling and walking in the city.

That money went towards events such as Bike Week and other similar campaigns, said Scannell, in an email response through the council’s press office.

A large chunk of that also went towards an initiative in Drimnagh focused on developing ways for communities to promote smarter travel in their area. That is soon to be rolled out across the city, called “Hike It, Bike It, Like It, Dublin”.

It includes a training programme for 5th- and 6th-class primary-school children citywide, which usually costs €50 per child. Dublin City Council plans to help cover that fee with €10 for each pupil, and in cases of disadvantaged Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) primary schools, €12 per pupil.

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is due to give €35 per pupil towards this same training programme. That leaves a balance of €5, or in the case of DEIS schools, €3 for pupils’ parents or their schools to finance.

But promotion is only a small part of convincing parents to have their children cycle or walk to school, says Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe. Safety, and therefore better infrastructure, is the key factor, he says.

“I’ve two teenage kids, and you’re always worried about ensuring that they’re safe,” said Cuffe, who is also head of Dublin City Council’s transport committee, and on the council’s walking and cycling subcommittee.

Speeding cars and those breaking red lights must be dealt with, Cuffe says. They “are very real fears” for parents, he says. “Protected cycle lanes are crucial.”

Others agree. “Historically, quite a significant proportion of parents would feel that it is too dangerous,” says Barbara Connolly of Cycling Ireland, who has run training programmes on safe cycling throughout schools.

Training can allay some of those fears, she says. “But there is, without a doubt, a fairly critical issue around appropriate, safe infrastructure,” she says.

Council Plans

According to Scannell, the council’s cycling and walking officer, there are also other targeted measures that the council is trying to take to get schoolchildren walking and cycling to school.

It works with An Taisce’s Green Schools programme, which gives it regular audits of “walkability” and “cyclability” for schools across the city.

The council “reads and takes note of all the suggestions made by the children in the audits”, said Scannell. If works are needed, they’re logged, she says. That could mean smoother footpaths, or new pedestrian crossings.

That will help get the safe infrastructure in place, says Cuffe. “These show what’s working and what isn’t,” he says.

“In the last few years, Dublin City Council has become a lot better at listening to and looking at those audits and working more closely with their engineers to implement the recommendations,” he says.

This is all progress in the right direction, says Cuffe.

“There are some very good, dedicated staff [at Dublin City Council] committed to walking and cycling. I always take the view that more could be done on sustainable modes,” he says. “But there was no funding for the last two years. We now have a budget.”

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Cónal Thomas: Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach him at cthomas@dubinq.com

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