JUST two per cent of pupils cycle to school in Yorkshire, but a sustained programme of investment in bike routes will change that, says charity Sustrans

LAST month, as Bradford welcomed the exciting UCI World Championships, another smaller cycling event was taking place that could have a much longer lasting impact on local children’s lives.

Schools across Bradford celebrated Sustrans’ Bike to School Week, a week-long event designed to encourage children across the UK to ditch the car and choose to cycle, walk or scoot to school. By inspiring more children to get on their bikes and choosing active travel for their daily journeys, we could be helping to tackle longer-term problems too.

Actually, transport is a health issue. In the Bradford District, over a third of children aged 10-11 are overweight or obese, with that number rising year on year. The city also has problems with traffic congestion and air pollution, particularly during peak times around the school journey.

Sustrans has worked with 31 schools around the city to tackle obesity using walking and cycling activities. The programme got over 4,000 children walking and cycling, including a ‘Walk and Wheelie’ Wednesday and bike maintenance sessions and doubled the number of children cycling to school.

Lots of children and their parents got inspired to get more active, but there is an important barrier which prevents wider behaviour change. While Sustrans’ national research shows that most parents support more ‘active travel’ many of them feel the roads are unsafe for their children to cycle, or even walk to school. As a result just 2% of primary school children in Yorkshire currently travel to school by bike. Compare that to cycling levels elsewhere such as in the Netherlands, where cycling is the main mode of transport for 49% of primary school children.

When the road blocks for high-level sporting events are taken away many of our roads revert to being dangerous and polluted – and no place for a child, let alone an adult, to cycle. It takes a sustained programme of investment in cycle infrastructure – much like we spend on our roads – to help change that.

In the Netherlands, the Dutch government spends around £35 per person per year on bike infrastructure. In comparison, in 2016-17 the UK government spent only around £7 per person in England on cycling, while investment in road building is the highest since the 1970s.

There are already lots of exciting developments for cycling and walking in Yorkshire. CityConnect’s new segregated cycle ‘superhighway’ route between Leeds and Bradford attracts thousands of people commuting to work and school, while the Bradford canal road highway provides a 2.6km missing link to Shipley.

Sustrans’ seven-mile Spen Valley Greenway from Dewsbury to Oakenshaw, is a well-loved traffic-free path as part of the National Cycle Network which gets children and adults active for leisure and commuting and there are plans to improve quality across the county’s existing network.

Schools which are close to these routes are much more likely to get children walking and cycling to school, but the further away they are from safe paths, the more likely parents are to jump in their cars.

By expanding this network to create more links to traffic-free paths and segregated cycle routes we could inspire many more children and adults to get on their bikes - and help make Yorkshire a true cycling county for everyone.

Sustrans is a national charity that helps more people to walk and cycle.