Friday, 7 February 2014

Why don't we cycle to school?

I often hear excuses as to why cycling to school is so low. Obviously us cycle campaigners know full well its because of a fear of motor traffic, a fear that is quite frankly, understandable. However I often hear people say that the UK is too hilly, or that we don't have a developed cycling culture, like the Netherlands.

I'm going to focus on Maidstone to show why these factors don't have an impact on cycling to school, and the main, if not only reason, for low cycling rates is traffic. I'm going to be using the data from here:

The map above shows all the schools in Maidstone, and their cycling rates. As you can see, only 3 schools in Maidstone have a cycling rate higher than 0.2%. Many have a cycling rate of 0%. Of the 3 that have higher cycling rates, 2 are primary schools and 1 is a secondary school, called Maidstone Grammar School. I am currently in the final year of their Sixth Form

Maidstone Grammar School has a cycling rate of 8.9%. Considering that every secondary school has a less than 0.2% cycling rate, this is very impressive. But the question is, what is so different at Maidstone Grammar School? In terms of similarities to other schools in Maidstone, much is similar:

  1. The area around the school is no less hilly than the rest of Maidstone
  2. The students live in the same area as other students from other schools, so "cycling culture" is going to be no different to that of students in other schools
  3. Roads around the school are no less busy than other schools, and it has 30mph through traffic outside the front gate.
But there is only one main difference:
  1. The school has an entrance outside a park
I have added the extent of the traffic free routes from the school onto a Satellite image. No other school in Maidstone has a traffic free route from the school:

This is the only reason Maidstone Grammar School has a much higher cycling rate than the rest of Maidstone. Now just imagine how many more would cycle if the school got rid of its compulsory helmet policy.


  1. Great first blog post well done! I'm a school travel adviser in London and I think you are right, people are scared of cycling on today's busy roads where there is far too much motor traffic going far too fast in towns and cities.
    I also write a blog: but I have not been able to get the twitter feed to work on the homepage like you have. How did you do that? Can you email me the HTML code? thanks!

    1. Try this link:

  2. Well done (from Australia) on starting on the way to joining the esteemed ranks (IMO) of the British cycling advocacy blogosphere. I don't understand the over-reach of British schools in telling people how they should travel to school i.e. making you wear helmets. I know what a disastrous impact this has had on Australian cycling rates.

    I choose to ride in parks and off-road paths for nearly all my journeys as there are no segregated on-road cycling paths on the arterial roads. Even the Dutch seem to prefer cycling through a park (e.g. Vondelpark in Amsterdam) instead of completely adequate segregated cycle tracks on the adjacent parallel-running Overtoom.

  3. Well done on your first blog post. It's well researched and you've used some good data to show the extent of cycling in your area. One thing though, what point are you trying to make?

    It's great to see that one school is doing better than others and of course that's a good thing, however are you don't make any comment on your personal opinion of this which is a shame as it would be good to hear what you think about cycling to school in general and also if you think there's anything that can be done to encourage more people to cycle to schools in general, as well as make it safer for people. Blogs should be about telling people your views, what you think and any ideas you have. This post is simply just a roundup of data.

    I'm also a little confused by your closing line, "Now just imagine how many more would cycle if the school got rid of its compulsory helmet policy." are you really suggesting that if people feel worried about traffic already, more would cycle if they didn't have to wear a helmet? I, respectfully, have to disagree with this. I think helmets should be compulsory and may well go a long way to helping people see the benefits of cycling as it prevents some of the horrible outcomes of accidents on our roads. The 'clunk click' campaign that promoted the use of seat belts in cars is a perfect example of how widely opposed legislation is now considered the norm to the point where if you don't wear a seatbelt you are considered the 'outsider'.

    1. Seatbelts in cars have not reduced road deaths. They have simply shifted the mortality from inside cars to outside.
      In other words, they are immoral.

    2. It's perfectly obvious what point this well-written and researched blog is trying to make. Sounds like you, hutchpr, need to find out more about the subject. Of course he's suggesting that "if people feel worried about traffic already, more would cycle if they didn't have to wear a helmet". All the evidence points to that. Compulsory helmets cause cycle use to plummet and injury rates to increase.

  4. Hi m-o-b, congratulations on your first post, and a good effort. I guess most of us blog mainly for our own amusement, but you would be surprised at how many views you end up getting, especially once someone re-tweets your links, or Sally Hinchcliffe at the CEoGB (@sallyhinch) includes you in her weekly blog post roundup.

    There is one small point I would challenge you on your conclusions about Maidstone school cycling: do you know for sure that all those schools reporting under 0.2% cycling actually do have such a low level, or is it just that they haven’t reported at all? I clicked one or two on the interactive map and found that not every school has responded.

    I suppose the reason I mention this is that I looked at the situation in the area where I grew up and found that only one of the four local secondary schools had reported at all. That one school - Brune Park Community School in the borough of Gosport, just west of Portsmouth - had almost 20% cycling. Had the other local secondaries – Bay House, St Vincents, and Bridgemary – reported at all, I would expect that they would probably also have cycle percentages in the teens or maybe even higher. You can of course see these results using the same resource which, thanks, I located via your links.

    Looking at the situation in the neighbouring borough of Fareham, the position looks a lot less rosy, although there is one notable exception, Crofton School with 27% cycling – and that might be mainly because the school is in an area which is culturally and geographically closer to Gosport and draws many of its students from that direction. The thing is, the two boroughs are very similar in many ways, in terms of their social mix, physical geography, climate, road systems etc but very different in their policies on cycling. In Gosport, some effort has been made to provide for cyclists, especially school students, to ride away from the road. It is by no means perfect and would doubtless be looked down on by any Netherlands resident but, compared with the quality of provision in most of the UK, it ranks as excellent. Fareham has really made not much effort at all, indeed you can get a sense of their councillors’ attitude from the scandal a while ago when their mayor was pilloried in the Portsmouth News for parking her official limo on a cycle path! (I have done a few post of my won around this subject, )

    Finally, I think your question about helmets is a highly pertinent one, despite the compulsionist observations of others in your comments. No doubt you already know where to find the scientific, peer-reviewed, evidence on the effects of helmet use on accident outcomes, cycling modal share etc, and so have seen how helmets have no clearly proven beneficial effect on head trauma, despite the “stands to reason” prejudice that surely, being helmets, they must protect against head injury, mustn’t they? You will no doubt also have seen the studies from countries like Australian and New Zealand where making helmets compulsory has not only caused catastrophic declines in the amount of cycling (and Australia is apparently the second most obese nation on earth) but if anything the incidence of serious head trauma per kilometre cycled has gone up! Have you considered challenging your school principal on this policy, and confronting him with the evidence? If so, good luck!

  5. I left Maidstone Girls Grammar School in 2006 and was fortunate enough to live within walking distance during my time there, but I can certainly testify that the school's handful of rotting bike sheds were rarely occupied, and when they were it was usually bikes belonging to members of staff. I knew a huge amount of fellow pupils who lived within easy cycling distance but were forced to either get the bus or have their parents run the Buckland Road gauntlet every afternoon. I feel like KCC's introduction of the Freedom Pass was a pretty poor attempt to paper over the problems young people have getting about in car-choked Kent. Certainly in my subsequent years working in transport planning with the county council the idea that there could be a viable alternative to the creaking public transport network was never whispered.

    I've since left Maidstone for damper but marginally more cycling-friendly climes in the south west, but I shall be reading with interest!