Improved infrastructure and safer routes to schools needed, says Sustrans
IMPROVED infrastructure and safer routes to schools are needed across Northern Ireland to encourage people to ditch driving, a charity has warned.
Sustrans says barriers to walking and cycling must be removed to encourage active travel to schools.
It comes as thousands of children are this week taking part in Cycle to School Week, which it is hoped will inspire behaviour change in young people choosing to travel actively rather than by car as they move into adult life.
To mark the annual event, Sustrans has three urgent priorities for Stormont to consider, including the creation of protected cycle lanes on all main road routes to schools - to make cycling families feel safe and welcome on the road.
It also wants a ban on pavement parking and the creation of '20 Minute Neighbourhoods' - new housing developments to be within a 20-minute return walk of local amenities.
Sustrans also says that the cost-of-living crisis re-emphasises that car-use is not affordable for everyone compared with considerably cheaper active travel methods such as walking and cycling.
Xavier Brice, Sustrans chief executive, said: "Engaging this generation of younger school pupils with cycling, and teaching them the importance of travelling actively, will only work if we all strive to make sure children and families feel safe and welcome on the road.
"That’s why this Cycle to School Week, Sustrans calls on the government to show real ambition and commit to installing protected cycle lanes along all main road routes to schools.
"Enabling and encouraging families across the UK that are suffering financially to choose to travel actively would demonstrate commitment to a new transport hierarchy in which the car is not king, for the sake of our wallets, our health and our planet."
Hundreds of schools throughout Northern Ireland have already undertaken Sustrans’ Active School Travel programme, which benefits a child’s physical and mental health.
It also reduces traffic and associated carbon emissions around the school gates, so improving air quality which has become a significant public health issue especially in urban areas.
Beth Harding, Sustrans active school travel manager, added: "While 43 per cent of pupils at participating schools now usually travel actively to school, as many as 80 per cent would like to.
"To do so, a ‘Safe Routes to School’ infrastructure programme must be developed to make the road safety improvements needed around schools to persuade more parents to let their children walk or cycle to school.
"Sustrans also calls for a 'Schools Streets' programme to be created in Northern Ireland to provide safe, car-free zones around schools."