The Park and Stride initiative by Galway City Council in partnership with An Taisce-Green Schools is welcomed by the Galway Cycling Campaign and Galway Cycle Bus, yet they warn that this is only a baby step in creating safe routes to school for thousands of children across the city.
More radical measures are needed to ease front of school congestion and create space for social distancing, including vehicle-free entrance for children walking and cycling, discouraging or preventing illegal parking, widening footpaths, and providing new pedestrian crossings and cycleways.
The government’s July Stimulus provides funding from the National Transport Authority (NTA) to Local Authorities to widen footpaths, provide pedestrian crossings and cycleways, and other Covid-19 related works.
In addition to enabling active travel, such road works would boost business for local construction companies and contractors.
Park and Stride
Though Park and Stride is one suggested measure, it has a number of downsides, including creating extra administration for schools, not enabling a switch to active travel from children’s front doors, and lacking objective measures of success. It is widely accepted that Park and Stride to school schemes are better suited to rural or semi-rural areas, rather than our city centres and suburbs.
The Galway Cycle Bus has long advocated for School Streets. “A School Street is a road outside a school with a temporary restriction on motorised traffic at school drop-off and pick-up times,” explains Neasa Bheilbigh, a primary school teacher and co-organiser of the Galway School Cycle Bus.
“Local authorities have powers to use traffic management orders to turn a street into a pedestrian and cycle zone, or School Street, for specific times during the school drop and collection. A trial in Malahide last autumn was a terrific success and championed by then Mayor of Fingal, Cllr. Eoghan O’Brien of Fianna Fáil. It made the school run safer – and that was before coronavirus.”
Ms Bheilbigh voices concerns with the new initiative.
“Park and Stride only encourages people driving cars to park elsewhere within a 10 minute walk of the school. People driving cars can still park up at the school door. It does not compel a behaviour change like School Streets, which restricts vehicle access to schools. Schools have no jurisdiction outside their school gates and so have no power to enforce Park and Stride, or illegal parking on footpaths and double yellow lines.”
“Furthermore, we do not have plans from the council to provide protection from traffic, or more space for social distancing, outside school grounds,” she continues. “This is vital for families who have multiple start times due to staggering of school hours.”
“Child-centred schools begin on the school drop,” says Alan Curran of Galway School Cycle Bus, who is also a teacher at Coláiste Éinde on Threadneedle Road, Salthill. “Walking and cycling has to be a convenient and safe option.”
Bike parking at schools
He continues, “My concern as a second level teacher is the mixed messages about cycling and the impact on bike parking. While all the Covid-19 guidance is about encouraging children to walk or cycle where possible, schools cannot allow students to gather in groups.”
“Up to 80 teenagers cycle per day here at St Enda’s secondary school. We need guidance and funds to make safe and socially-distant bike parking. Some schools have re-allocated bike sheds to create additional classrooms, and so need a completely new provision of bike stands.”
Cycle lanes on school routes
“Temporary pop up cycle lanes on the access roads to schools should have been a priority for the city council prior to schools reopening from next Thursday,” says Kevin Jennings, chairperson of Galway Cycling Campaign and lecturer at NUI Galway.
“To facilitate safe cycling routes to schools, Dublin City Council is installing a 3.5km segregated cycle lane along Griffith Avenue. This will act as a ‘spine’ to local schools and DCU.
A similar 3.5km school route in Galway would stretch from Coláiste Éinde and Salerno in Salthill to city centre schools like The Bish, Our Lady’s College, and St Patrick’s, Mercy, and St Nicholas’ primary schools via a plethora of schools such as Scoil Éinde, Scoil Róis, Dominican College, Scoil Fhursa, St Mary’s College, and the Jes primary and secondary schools.
“There’s still time to create temporary cycle lanes en route to NUI Galway and GMIT,” he says. “Higher education institutions are busy planning some form of on-campus learning experience, which will be vital for incoming first year students. We need to protect their mental health, provide quality education, and create a community for them. Cycling is fun, sociable while appropriately distant, healthy, and smart in a university city.”
“Tweaks to pre-covid public realm and transport plans are not fit for purpose for our needs this autumn-winter,” concluded Mr Jennings. “One third of this city’s population goes to school at all levels as students or workers. We need better and safer routes to school.”
An online public meeting for parents, teachers, and youth workers about trying to understand the gender gap in lower cycling rates among teenage girls will be held by Galway Cycling Campaign on Thursday 2 July at 7.30pm on Zoom.
An Taisce Green-Schools staff will address the meeting and share how the #AndSheCycles campaign supports schools and teenage girls to start cycling and stay cycling.
Green-Schools have been working with schools around the country to increase cycling numbers for over ten years.
In Ireland, just 2.1% of teenagers cycle to secondary school. In The Netherlands, that figure is 75%.
New research and a public awareness campaign looks at what needs to be done to enable teenage girls – and their parents – to feel more comfortable and confident cycling everyday.
Allison Phillips, Cycling Development Officer with Green-Schools, said, “An Taisce-Green Schools supports schools and teenage girls through training, funding, campaigns, and audits of cycling routes to school. We have been working with schools around the country to increase cycling numbers for over ten years. The #AndSheCycles campaign works with teenage girls across Ireland shine a light on barriers that are preventing them from cycling and help girls get – or get back on – their bikes.”
Green-Schools are exploring the cycling gender gap among teenagers to understand its origins and find creative ways to increase cycling to school amongst teenage girls.
“The #AndSheCycles research is ongoing and we intend publishing results in early 2021, “ said Robert Egan, Secondary Schools Travel Officer, a researcher who recently completed a PhD at Trinity College Dublin on gender and everyday cycling.
He continued, “Young women, particularly teenagers, face concerns that most people on bikes face, such as feeling unsafe sharing roads with HGVs and vans due to a lack of cycle lanes. However, teenage girls also deal with social issues such as peer pressure and harassment on the roads from drivers and young men.”
Cycling is seen as something for boys and not for girls. What is emerging from the research are reflections for parents, teachers and policy makers about how teenage cycling is gendered and how this process of gendering can be neutralised. We want girls to enjoy the same access to cycling and the same feelings of freedom that boys enjoy.
In 2016, only 694 secondary school girls across Ireland cycled regularly to school and over 2,000 drove themselves, while in 1986 there were over 19,000 girls cycling to school, according to Census data provided by the Central Statistics Office.
Happily Galway remains one of the highest rates of cycling to school in the country. And yet, the gender gap is stark.
Of the children in Galway aged 5 to 18 years who cycle to education, about 73% are male and 27% are female, according to Census 2016 data from the Central Statistics Office.
Cécile Robin, Secretary of Galway Cycling Campaign, commented, “We’ve seen with the school strikes last year that young people are highly engaged with climate action. The bicycle does three things: gives a freedom machine to young women, gives back time to mum and dad who no longer need to act as a frequent private taxi service, and creates life-long habits for good mental health while also reducing carbon emissions.”
“Teenagers want independence. Parents want their children to be safe, “ commented Neasa Bheilbigh, teacher and co-organiser of the Galway Cycle Bus for primary school children.
We want to make cycling a very real and safe option for all who would like to choose to do so.
This event will give parents, teachers, youth workers and policy makers things to consider as we look ahead to schools re-opening in September.”
Log-in details for the online event on Zoom this Thursday 2 July 2020 are available by emailing [email protected]
Who we are
Galway Cycling Campaign is a voluntary group which represents cyclists in Galway. We promote cycling as a common and accessible form of transport with the goal of creating a more liveable Galway for everyone.