October is ‘International Dodge Speeding Car on Narrow Lane’ and ‘Get Rained on While Wearing Grey Trousers Month’. Luckily, at the last minute the organisers pulled in a new marketing team and decided on the catchier name of International Walk to School Month.
Living close enough to school to walk there with your children is a fantastic opportunity. Even if you live too far, you can park safely ten minutes from the gate and make regular exercise part of your daily routine – benefiting both you and your children.
Walking also reduces the hideous congestion of vehicles that develops around school gates. This haphazard parking can leave residents feeling like they live in a badly regulated car park and children are at risk as they weave their way through the traffic.
Environmentally, walking is a no-brainer. Reducing the number of people on the school car run slashes carbon emissions and reduces air pollution. Indeed, it is the short car journeys when the engine is cold and inefficient, that create most damage on a mile for mile basis. You’ll save money too – did you know that driving the average school run for a year costs over £400?
However, the reality is that less than half of all primary school children walk to school. The reasons include the weather, a shortage of time, having children at separate schools and the stress of walking with younger siblings in tow.
Speeding traffic in villages and outside schools is also a major concern. In my village, parents have worked with the Parish Council to reduce the speed limit outside the school and create a white line demarked space for walking within on a bendy country lane with high banks each side. It’s still not perfect though.
Even where there are pavements, cars go past so fast that your heart is in your mouth every few moments when your child runs to meet a friend or your learner cyclists wobbles ahead of you. Children are not automatons that stick firmly to the centre of the pavement, despite you shrieking at them. They scamper and frolic as well they should. The traffic around them makes no concession to this. It can feel like there is zero room for error before your beloved child becomes a statistic.
I have to keep telling myself that although there is a small risk walking to school, the risk of not doing so is even higher. Overweight, unhealthy children, streets that are out-of-bounds and a trashed environment are not a future we should be willing to accept.
We need to reclaim the streets this month and be as noisy as a troop of seven year olds who have eaten too many Haribos. Speak up and ask your school how it is getting involved in Walk to School Month. Lobby your council about 20 mph zones and traffic calming measures. But above all, get out there with your hi-vis jackets on and walk to school.
Find out more about the Walk to School campaign here.