Walking to school: Must Try Harder

Published on Tuesday, 28 May 2013 15:49
Written by Tony Armstrong

To mark Walk to School Week (20-24 May) Living Streets launched its report 'Must Try Harder: How school travel can make the grade.' Living Streets' vision is that every child who can walk to school does so and this report took an honest look at the state of school travel

Here at Living Streets, we are committed to reversing the decline in children and young people's walking levels. Our YouGov commissioned poll of 1000 parents found that, despite more being done to ensure barriers to walking to school are overcome, 35% of primary aged children are driven less than half a mile to school, and a staggering 49% are driven up to one mile. 27% of parents polled told us they automatically drive their children to school, with 21% stating they have never even considered walking their child to school[1].

These results clearly show that something has to change. The benefits of walking to school are apparent. Not only is it good for physical and emotional health, but it improves air quality and reduces carbon emissions. As one parent told us, "People think driving is easier but it isn't. The cars cause mayhem on the road and end up blocking off buses which cause traffic delays. The walk to school is a fun time for children and I enjoy it as well."

The future of our children and their sedentary lifestyle is deeply worrying. The long term cost implications of poor health related to low level of physical activity show us that intervention has never been more crucial. Elevated body mass index was estimated at £7 billion in 2001, with a predicted increase to £27 billion by 2015. Mental health problems have been estimated to cost the UK economy £106 billion in 2009/10.

The title of our report 'Must Try Harder' could not be more apt. Of course, there have been some huge successes. In 2012, Living Streets - in partnership with Durham County Council - secured funding through the Government's Local Sustainable Transport Fund to roll out its Walk to School outreach project in 11 local authority areas. The project is rightly ambitious with targets to convert 4.2 million school journeys from car to walking and a further 2.8 million to Park and Stride, saving an estimated 3.59 thousand tonnes of CO2. In the first year alone we have launched Walk Once a Week (WoW) in 210 primary schools, reaching over 50,000 more children. Early results replicate the success of the pilot project, with walking rates at participating primary schools increasing from 53% to 68%.

However, it is a concern that the previous Government's school travel strategy was discontinued and no replacement strategy was put in place. With the Department of Education taking the decision to no longer track changes in travel to school by local authority area it seems that walking to school is taking a backseat, along with many of our children who are being driven. Supporting the walk to school needs to be part of a clear well resourced, long-term strategy to increase the number of people walking (including walking to school) and improve the walking environment.

Listen to our children

Children are the biggest champions of walking to school. They tell us they enjoy it, that it makes them feel brighter and is a great way to start the day. Many of these children's parents walked to school, but sadly, this tradition is declining. As National Walking Month draws to a close, the work of Living Streets carries on as passionately as ever. We continue to campaign for local authorities to implement 20 mph limits and work with them to make their streets safe, attractive, enjoyable places where people want to walk.

[1] All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,009 GB parents of children aged 5 to 11, Fieldwork was undertaken between 1st-6th May 2013.  The survey was carried out online.

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