The report surveyed 3,400 people from across NSW.(ABC News: Robert Koenig-Luck)
Parents are role models
Whether we like it or not, parents are role models and habits are formative.
“Active travel to school” is one of 10 priority areas proposed by the Australian Health Policy Collaboration and more than 70 leading chronic disease experts to fix the growing obesity and chronic health crisis.
And you don’t have to be a transport professional to see that school trips in cars are also bad for traffic congestion and road safety. Queues of cars around schools and local roundabouts make crossings dangerous for walkers and cyclists.
While these trips may seem short and innocuous, the sheer volume of them also clogs up the wider network, diminishing air quality and the way our cities function.
Experts estimate that the additional congestion costs generated by school trips in cars is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
So what can we do to get more kids walking or riding a bike to school?
Good pedestrian infrastructure, pleasant walking and cycling environments and safe crossings are critical, of course.
The good news is that transport planners are increasingly seeing streets as places for walking or riding bikes, and pedestrians and cyclists as more than just safety risks to be mitigated.
But parents’ perceptions are also a key obstacle to more kids cycling and walking to school, particularly when the decision is to let them do this independently.
Could you be breaking the law?
It’s not helpful that in some places letting a child go to school on their own could be classed as breaking the law.
In 2017 the ABC reported on a notice published in a school newsletter bearing the Queensland Police Service insignia telling parents that children under the age of 12 cannot walk or ride to school alone.
For the past 10 years, Queensland’s criminal codes have made it an offence to leave a child under 12 unsupervised for an “unreasonable” time (although legally speaking the report argued that this was unlikely to mean a blanket ban on kids under 12 making their way to school alone).
But parents’ thoughts and perceptions on official guidance and social norms are important.
A 2016 study in Victoria found parents were more likely to restrict their child’s independent mobility if they were worried about being judged by others.
However, the biggest barrier to more parents letting their children walk or ride to school alone is parental concern about speeding cars and other traffic dangers.
This is followed by fears around “stranger danger” and abduction (although statistically speaking, kids are much safer on the street than online).
Leaving the house for the walk to school feels like escaping through a magical sliding door from the stress of the morning routine to a slower, calmer world.(Supplied)
It’s understandable — the urge to keep kids safe is hardwired in parents. But when we choose to drive to school, we only add to the real traffic dangers and risks even as we continue to frame it as a problem created by others.
Or as a legendary outdoor poster by Dutch satnav maker TomTom proclaimed in 2010: “You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.”
The impact of COVID-19
The pandemic is also influencing people’s travel choices. On the one hand, local walking and cycling trips are on the rise as more people work from home. Around Australia, demand for new bikes is famously outstripping supply.
But it’s also possible that continued anxiety around exposure to others (particularly on public transport) may persuade us that we’re better off staying inside our bubbles on wheels.
These days, my kids are older and get to school by themselves.
My youngest son still walks to school via the same route I take to the train station and prefers neither of his parents accompany him. It’s a change that seemed to happen almost overnight. One morning the boys simply walked out the door on their own, leaving a house that felt suddenly very quiet.
I do miss walking and talking with them sometimes; that everyday invitation to spend more time in the present.
But it would be hard not to celebrate their independence, confidence and ability to successfully navigate the outside world for themselves.
I also hope that walking to school with the kids will mean remembering less about the fretful assembly of school lunches and missing library bags and more about chance encounters with puddles, plants and people.
And sometimes, on a lucky day, the feeling of a small hand slipped quietly, without too much thought, into mine.
Alison Bunbury is a mother of two who encourages her boys to walk to school. She also works in transport policy but this opinion is her own.
Fuente de la Información: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-20/walk-to-school-children-transport-traffic-health-safety/12660300