Kids cycling to school shouldn’t be rocket science

What's easier?  Making it safe for children to cycle to school, or sending rich old men into space / blasting an asteroid?

Yep, you've guessed it!

Building cycle paths shouldn't be like rocket science - drawing of boy on a bike watching a space rocket launch

Providing safe cycling infrastructure so families can cycle to school shouldn't be rocket science. The Dutch and Danes have been doing it for years so we don't even need to reinvent the wheel.

But here in our crazy country, it appears that rocket science is actually easier than building safe cycling routes.

The simple request - for all children who want to cycle to school to be able to do so safely - proves to be far beyond the capability of our leaders.

Perhaps if we wanted to send our kids to school on the moon Messers Branson, Bezos and Musk or the boffins at NASA would be interested?

Astronaut cycling - it shouldn't be rocket science getting more kids onto bikes

The climate emergency and air quality issues should really be focussing everyone's minds on how to get more people out of cars (including electric ones) and onto more sustainable forms of transport, especially bicycles.

As it seems to be beyond the capabilities of our politicians and planners to actually work out what needs to be done, I thought I'd write down a few ideas.

The first list is things that could be done really quickly, if the political will and some money was available. By quickly I mean months, possibly even weeks, if the climate crisis was actually being treated as a crisis.

The second list is things that need more time and money to complete but could be completed in several years, again if there really was the political will to act.

Quick ways to get more kids cycling to school

Covid-19 has already shown how quickly things can progress when there's the political will and some funding. 

There's no reason why all of these can't be implemented in the next few months, except the lack of political will to do so.

1  Reprioritise all highways and planning authorities away from keeping motor vehicles moving to keeping people moving, with priority on active travel for local journeys under 20 minutes

2  Give several ministers responsibility for making it possible for every child who wants to cycle to school to be able to do so

3  Set up daily press briefings with lots of graphs to let everyone know how quickly progress is being made against items 1 and 2

To help them on their way, here's a few top secret, rocket science level things that these clever people could do NOW:

4  Ensure school entrances are safe by making "School Street" schemes compulsory across the country

5  Implement 20mph speed limits in all built up areas and enforce this rigorously (using the proceeds to fund other things on this list)

6  Extend the "Bike to Work" scheme to be a "Bike to School" scheme, offering ALL families access to loans and grants for cycling equipment

7  Set up a national network of family cycling libraries so families can test out / borrow the equipment needed to cycle to school with younger children

8  Build secure, covered bike sheds at all schools

9  Build bike storage facilities in residential areas so all families can securely and safely store their cycling equipment

10  Give every child an air quality monitor to carry around with them, especially on the drive to school

11  Demand car manufacturers start making cargo bikes instead

All these things could be done in a matter of weeks - if the people in charge thought saving the planet was a priority.  Scroll down for some things that might take a bit longer.

Longer term ways to get more kids cycling to school 

Long term, there's a few key things that need to be done. 

This isn't rocket science, and all that is needed is to reallocate some of the road building and space budgets, together with the political will to make it happen:

1  Capital budget, released immediately, for every authority to implement everything in their Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (or regional equivalents)

This will remove the need for areas to bid against each other for small pots of funding, as currently this situation results in piecemeal infrastructure and a postcode lottery as to whether it's safe to cycle

2   Capital budget, released immediately, for every authority to upgrade all their existing cycling infrastructure to meet the LTN 1/20 standards

3  Ongoing funding provided to every authority to maintain all their new and existing cycling infrastructure to a high standard

4  Legislation to ensure that it's really easy and cheap for people and things to move around our country in the most environmentally efficient way.  This would mean a lot more investment in walking and cycling infrastructure, car and bike sharing schemes and public transport, rather than assuming everyone wants to drive (or indeed can drive) everywhere.

Covid-19 has proved there is the ability to mobilise huge numbers of people, redivert effort to design and build things and deliver huge nationwide initiatives when there's a big enough of a crisis.

If saving the planet isn't a big enough crisis, I really don't know what is.

If they weren't so busy, I'd suggest we hand this over to the University of Oxford and the NHS to sort out.  My guess is they'd only need a few months!

This article was written in November 2021 when the UK hosted the COP26 conference, shortly after the rush by Branson, Musk and co to get into space.

I've updated it in October 2022 just prior to COP27, when NASA have been testing whether they can blast an asteroid to save the world.  It seems strange that one threat to life on earth is being tackled with huge headline making actions, whereas the other threat is being brushed aside.  Perhaps it's because it involves every one of us making changes to their life styles?  Or is it because it doesn't make good news headlines?  Do drop your thoughts in the comment box below. 


Leo Jefferies

Hi Karen,
I read your article ” Kids cycling to school shouldn’t be rocket science” with interest. I was a stay at home dad in Chester in the 90s, who took my son to school by tandem or kick scooter.
I am, in turn, encouraged to see more parents using similar means, but also disappointed to see the same sort of reaction from some people that we encountered 30 years ago.
I applaud your work in highlighting these issues around active transport!
Best wishes


Hello Leo – thank you so much for your kind words. It is very frustrating that things haven’t moved on that much in 30 years, but I do feel now the tide is changing. Hoping it doesn’t take another 30 years before cycling and scooting to school is the norm. Kind regards Karen

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