Melissa Henry, Sustrans Communications Director, writes for BikeBiz...
From our early beginning as a campaign group nearly 40 years ago, Sustrans realised the importance of leading by example by building places that can change the way people travel. The Bristol to Bath Railway Path, our first project, is now one of the busiest sections of National Cycle Network in the country. However, as Sustrans grew, so did the understanding that to get more people moving, infrastructure needed to go hand in hand with enabling people to change their travel behaviour.
Making travel on foot and bike a viable option for everyday journeys for people of all ages requires a variety of interventions – focusing on both people and the space they move through. Our work in schools, for example, is hugely important in giving children the skills and information they need to move confidently through their community, and their parents the peace of mind to let them. But we also identify and call for safer routes for walking and biking to and from schools so that more children and adults can have healthier, more convenient journeys to school and beyond. Hand in hand, these two facets of working with place and people make a real impact.
Sustrans now has 140 schools officers in nearly 2,500 schools, working with parents, teachers and pupils to identify the barriers to children getting about under their own steam. Concerns about traffic, lack of cycling training and facilities are often heard. Schools officers work with children and parents to find solutions, including identifying safe routes, working with the local authority to improve routes to the school or reduce speed limits or develop paths, helping to source funding for bicycle and scooter parking or delivering training.
Every year we monitor the impact of our schools work. In 2013/14 we found that after a year of Sustrans working in their schools, children regularly cycling to school nearly doubled from 8.5 per cent to 16 per cent. At the same time car journeys dropped by four per cent.
Fryern Junior School in Hampshire is a great example of the impact Sustrans’ schools officers can make. Since 2013 the number of children regularly cycling has risen from one in twenty (5.6 per cent) to a fifth (19.9 per cent), those regularly walking from 42 per cent to 55 per cent and those regularly scooting from seven per cent to 16 per cent. As a result car use has dropped significantly. We are working with the school and the local council to improve routes and entrances and there are plans to build a dedicated walking and cycling route to the school.
This grassroots work is hugely important and is reliant on government funding. Worryingly, the funding we currently have in England for these types of projects will end in 2016, which clearly jeopardises the future of schools-based programmes.
Thankfully, we have had a recent campaign success. In February, the Infrastructure Act became law and now the government must develop a Walking and Cycling Infrastructure Strategy for England. Sustrans led the campaign for this Strategy to be included in the Act and it is a huge step forward towards obtaining the funding needed for both places for walking and cycling, as well as programmes delivered by our schools officers.
Sustrans will continue to campaign and put pressure on the next government to put in place an ambitious Investment Strategy to enable even more people to walk and bike everyday journeys.