On Friday, a “cycle bus” of children is due to make its first official run to Riverview Educate Together in Dublin 12, picking up kids from around the area, and shepherding them to the school.
They’ve already had trial runs, says Aodhán King, a parent. “I have to be honest, the enthusiasm from the kids is second to none,” he says. “My own fella always shouts, ‘Cycle bus coming through!’”
A cycle bus is when a group of parents and children cycle to school together, the children on the inside, the parents forming a barrier all around them, protecting them from vehicles on the road.
Many children love that there’s a big group, said King. “It’s magical to them. The only people that are afraid are the parents and rightly so. But we’re only afraid because of the way things are and they don’t have to be like that.”
The plan on Friday is for Riverview Educate Together Principal Margaret Burke to start the route, and collect King and the other parents and children along the way to the school.
They’re still looking for a few more volunteer “marshalls” to help, King says. “A couple of experienced cyclists helping at junctions helps at no end.”
Inspired by a cycle-bus initiative in Galway, the Riverview Educate Together cycle bus isn’t the only one in the Dublin area. There are also cycle buses in Ballinteer and Portmarnock.
“I’m the one that has most to gain from this,” says Oisín O’Connor, whose daughter goes to Ballinteer Educate Together. “I’m going to be off on my commute to work and know that she is on the cycle bus.”
Strength in numbers and parents as responsible marshalls means the kids are going to be as safe as they’re ever going to be on the road, says O’Connor. “We choose local roads, where local people are going to be driving down.”
After seeing a video of a cycle bus in Galway online, O’Connor and King chatted with like-minded parents about setting up cycle buses for their own areas in Dublin.
These parents sent out online surveys to other parents, collecting information on where they live and how they get to school. With this data, they sat down and plotted routes on Google Maps.
They set the cycle-bus route to stick to quieter residential areas, avoid hazards on roads, and pass through neighbourhoods where most school parents lived.
“We saw Galway do it, now we’ll do it. Hopefully, some other community will see us doing it and then they’ll want to do it,” says O’Connor.
The Riverview and Ballinteer cycle buses are still in the early stages, so they are unable to fully gauge the number of cyclists that will join them. But the Galway cycle bus has been running since 2018.
“We had an average of 16 students on the cycle bus every day,” says Alan Curran, a parent involved with the Galway cycle bus.
“This ranged from over 60 children during our monthly family day rides, to only 2/3 during days where the weather was particularly bad,” Curran says. “While we record the numbers on a daily basis, we don’t get completely fixated on it.”
Curran and other parents involved in the cycle buses in Galway and Dublin say the goal isn’t to have huge numbers, but to promote “active travel” – walking and cycling and the like – change mindsets, and open up new options for school runs.
In the Dublin City Council area, 36 percent of kids are driven to school, but this rises to nearly 50 percent in South Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, according to 2016 census data.
“Changing the mindset that any active travel initiative, has a huge impact on student learning and wellbeing,” Curran says.
While it is encouraging cycling, the cycle bus is not “an anti-car initiative”, O’Connor says.
They expect a lot of people to drive their kids with the bike and drop them to the meetup point if they’re coming from further away, he says. “That’s totally fine. It’s really about another option for people in the morning when the traffic is bad.”
Connecting with Councils
The cycle buses have been working with the local councils to improve the safety of the routes.
South Dublin City Council Road Safety Officer Ally Menary joined the Riverview cycle bus on a trial run, and offered some advice about the route, O’Connor said.
Aodhán King, who has been helping to organise the Riverview cycle bus, said that the initiative has given parents the opportunity to have conversations with the council that they feel wouldn’t they normally wouldn’t have had.
They’re having direct conversation with councillors about the routes they’re using, how they can be improved, he says. “For example traffic light timing, potentially widening the cycling lane, improving the surface of the roads.”
Róisín Kelly, a co-founder of the Riverview cycle bus, has applied for funding from the council to buy equipment such as hi-vis jackets, identifying flags and a trailer to put the kids’ school bags into.
Meanwhile, in Ballinteer, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has told the cycle bus there that they will look at dishing curbs, making it easier for the kids to cycle up and down them, O’Connor said.
For parents looking to set up a cycle bus in their own school, O’Connor says: “Find like-minded parents and just chat with them informally. Check out the Galway cycle bus online.”