Creating safe routes to schools is key to tackling childhood inactivity levels in Greater London, and UK-wide, Sustrans’ new chief executive said at the charity’s festival for school children at the Lee Valley VeloPark, which was funded by Transport for London and Lee Valley Regional Park Authority.
Xavier Brice spoke to a gathering of cycling infrastructure professionals at the Sustrans festival, while hundreds of schoolchildren raced in the tracks of Olympic winners Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Bradley Wiggins, and watched inspiring BMX and mountain bike shows.
Mr Brice highlighted the need for more linking routes from existing cycle networks to primary and secondary school gates and residential communities to encourage more children to walk or cycle to school, helping to tackle inactivity in children, which leads to health problems in later life. He added that recent research from Sustrans shows that children spend almost half the amount of time playing outside compared to their parents.
Mr Brice said: “London has made fantastic progress in building cycle super highways and development of the quietways network is helping more people to feel confident to get on their bikes and cycle to school or work. The more these routes link up to schools and communities, the more likely children and their parents will choose to leave their cars at home and walk or cycle.
“Parents today are the first generation of computer gamers, yet our research shows that children play outside almost half as much as their parents did and more time playing on computer games or mobile devices. We know that inactive children are much more likely to be inactive as adults and this puts them much more at risk of developing chronic health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease in later life.”
Sustrans works with over 500 schools in Greater London as part of the Bike It Plus Project, which is funded by Transport for London. In 2014-15 the number of pupils who regularly cycled to school doubled in schools which participated in the programme. Children who cycled every day trebled from two to six per cent.
As live footage streamed from the Tour de France, over 240 children from 16 primary and secondary schools across Greater London tried out the famous one-mile road circuit and 250 metre Velodrome. They watched spectacular shows from professional BMX stunt men Matti Hemmings and Keelan Phillips, mountain bike stunt displays, and bicycle themed activities, such as pedal-powered smoothies and jewellery making.
Ben Plowden, TfL's Director of Surface Strategy and Planning, said: "It's wonderful to see so many children enthused about cycling, and to see the results of working in partnership with Sustrans to deliver Bike It Plus in London. Bike It Plus seeks to establish a cycling culture throughout the school community and the confidence and sense of achievement it has provided these young people I’ve met today is truly infectious.”
"In addition to programmes like Bike It Plus we aspire to offer Bikeability (cycle training) to every child who lives in London for free. The sessions help to give youngsters the confidence and skills they need to ride more safely, more often."
Brian Daley, Director of Venues at Vibrant Partnerships, which manages Lee Valley Velopark said: “Cycling at Lee Valley VeloPark gives young people a sense that they are champions for the day and we want them to know that they are welcome to come to this inspirational venue.
“We offer a range of sessions that give young people the chance to improve their cycling techniques and build their confidence in a safe environment and we have seen a growing popularity in the number of school groups signing up to sessions on all our four cycling activities – track, road, mountain bike and BMX - as well as individuals joining our school holiday programmes.”
A recent YouGov survey commissioned by Sustrans of 950 parents around the UK found that children today spend almost half the amount of time playing outside compared to their parents. In London parents surveyed reported that their children aged 5-11 played an average of 1.06 hours outside, slightly less than the UK average of 1.09 hours, compared to the 1.87 hours that parents remembered playing outside at their children’s age.
Credit to Jon Bewleyfor bringing th story to our attention.