As printed in the Leitrim Observer 26th August 2020.
Leitrim Cycling Festival’s small bike ride last Saturday may have seemed like an inauspicious event but it may just be the start of a small revolution. Thanks to the ‘Get to School on Your Own Fuel’ initiative being run by Cyclist.ie, the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network, groups all over the country have been taking part in practice runs to schools. The initiative is running from the 15th to the 28th August with events and a scavenger hunt competition to encourage families to practice their route before the schools start back.
Throughout the summer, children have been out cycling in their local neighbourhoods, going to parks, meeting friends, and enjoying the freedom and fresh air. With the return to classrooms in September, the advocacy groups want to highlight the opportunities for more children and students to cycle, walk, scoot or skate safely to school.
Key to getting more children to get back to school ‘on their own fuel’ is the familiarisation of routes from home to school.
Last Saturday 22nd August, Leitrim Cycling Festival in conjunction with parents from Cootehall National School including Emily from Artwood, Sarah from Donal Neary & Co. Accountants and Mo from Hullaballoo, organised a short bike ride from Cootehall Village to the school and back. Gerry from Trailblazers met them at the school where he gave a short workshop on how to carry out a simple m-check of your bike to make sure its road worthy before heading off on a ride.
As a result of the practice run two of the parents in Cootehall School will be starting a regular Friday morning bike ride to the school from the village. This means that an extra 5 children at least will be arriving at school having had a blast of fresh air and exercise to start the day. Studies have shown improvements in performance in school for those who cycle and the active start creates energy that helps concentration levels[i]. It also saves money, reduces congestion during the school drop-off, encourages independence and can be a lot of fun!
There are already active cycle buses in places like Galway, Limerick and Dublin. The idea is simple – a group of parents and children ride along a set route, at a set time with set pick up points, just like a bus. The number of parents required will depend on the size of the group and the complexity of the route but it is recommended that there be at least one parent front and back.
Mat Warren, of Leitrim Cycling Festival and a cycle trainer, will be on hand for the first cycle bus to Cootehall National School on Friday 4th September to help make sure the parents involved are comfortable leading the group.
If any parents in Cootehall National School would like to get involved or find out more about the Friday morning Cootehall Cycle Bus they can contact Christine or Emily.
Organiser of Leitrim Cycling Festival, Jo Sachs-Eldridge, said
“As someone whose day job used to be designing cycle routes, I’ve loved seeing so many more kids and families out on bikes this summer. We are so lucky to live in places where the roads are still relatively lightly trafficked and the distances between our schools, towns and villages mean that the bicycle can be a real alternative to the car.”
“This national campaign to ‘Get to School on Your Own Fuel’ is a fantastic initiative to give people the chance to practice their route to school before the September rush. It would be wonderful for more families to discover what might be possible. Even if they then only do it a few times a week, or even a few times a month, it all makes a difference.”
The network of cycling groups, of which Leitrim Cycling Festival is a member, are calling on schools to provide space for secure bicycle parking. They will be contacting all local authorities and the National Transport Authority with a request to support and fund this initiative where possible and are encouraging parents to do the same.
As set out in the Vision for Cycling in Rural Ireland (http://cyclist.ie/ruralvision/), cycling groups want to see all agencies and organisations remove barriers to cycling and walking by reducing speeds of car drivers, creating segregated routes where needed and installing other infrastructure to make walking and cycling an attractive, safe option. The groups will also be contacting all local authorities to ask that they implement as a matter of urgency 30 km/h speed limits in all urban areas especially around schools.
REFERENCES / NOTES
Get to School on Your Own Fuel www.cyclist.ie/school
National Scavenger Hunt Competition www.cyclist.ie/school
A Vision for Cycling in Rural Ireland. https://cyclist.ie/ruralvision/