June 9th, 2017
A new initiative from the Department of Climate Action encouraging children to walk the final leg of their journey to school is deeply flawed, a leading active transport expert has said.
The ‘Stop & Stroll’ walking initiative was launched by Minister Denis Naughten, TD on Monday to mark World Environment Day, targeting children who are driven to school.
Between workers and students, around 400,000 people travel four kilometres or less to work, school or college by car every day – distances that could easily be cycled or walked.
The number of vehicles on Irish roads hit a record high of over 2.5m cars in 2016, of which almost 2m were private cars.
Traffic is seen as the key pressure on air quality in our largest cities as exhaust emissions leave us hovering dangerously close to EU limits for nitrogen dioxide, a major contributor to poor air quality.
If every primary school child who travels to school by car walked the last 1km of their journey, it would save 113 tonnes of C02, while also tackling childhood obesity, the Minister said at the launch of the plan.
“It’s a win-win for the environment and air quality and the health and well-being of our children and ourselves,” he added.
While commending the idea to get kids “more active more often”, Dr Elaine Mullan told The Green News that the plan won’t have any impact without changes to Ireland’s road environment and school transport policies.
Road safety fears are the main barrier to Mr Naughten’s policy, she added, as parents are fearful roads are too dangerous to allow their children to walk even a portion of their journey to school.
The Waterford Institute of Technology lecturer added that in many cases there is nowhere to safely drop kids off and traffic volumes or speeds close to schools are often too high.
“It would be a far better use of the Minister’s time to require all schools to have School Travel Plans that work towards meeting targets for park ‘n’ stride, walking, buses, and general walking and cycling to school set by schools themselves in conjunction with kids and parents, ” said Dr Mullen.
She also called for seed funding to be made available for installing traffic calming, park-and-stride and road crossing infrastructure in the vicinity of schools, with further funding made contingent on reaching specific targets.
This would put the onus on schools and parents to work together with local authorities to enable as many kids as possible to use active modes of transport to get to school, she said.
“Only multi-level interventions work in changing population behaviour: put a policy in place, make the environment safe and conducive [and] encourage group support and involvement,” she said.
She added that there are already more effective initiatives in place, such An Taisce’s Green-Schools Flag programme. The scheme encourages more active transport to school through the likes of cycle skills training, cycle and walk days, and parking restrictions at school entrances.
Similarly, the Department for Transport’s Smarter Travel programme provides funding to provide information and improve facilities for cyclists, walkers and public transport users.
“In my view #stopandstroll is just a waste of a hashtag,” Dr Mullan concluded.