Parents call for investment in safe walking and cycling for school children

Brian Joss – South African parents overwhelmingly support investment in safe walking and cycling to protect children on their journey to school from both COVID-19 and road danger, an international opinion survey conducted by YouGov for the Child Health Initiative shows.

The results, released last week by the Child Health Initiative show that in South Africa: 

  • 50% of parents think the roads are not safe enough for their child to walk or cycle to school
  • 68% of adults are concerned about air quality in their local area
  • 79% of adults support road closures, speed reduction, and restrictions on cars near schools
  • 65% of parents would change children’s school journeys to walking and cycling as part of COVID-19 social distancing measures, but only if streets are safe

The results from the opinion survey in 11 countries further shows that:

  • Almost three-quarters of people support physical changes such as road closures, limiting traffic and reducing speeds to protect children worldwide
  • Three in five worried about air pollution
  • More than half of journeys to school are not safe, think parents
  • More than two-thirds of parents would change the journey to school for their child to walking and cycling as part of COVID-19 social distancing measures,  but only if streets were safe

Vehicle restrictions to protect young people from road traffic injury and the wider community from COVID-19 exposure, and air pollution are also emphatically supported by the public, according to the research by Child Health Initiative, a global health partnership co-ordinated by international philanthropy organisation the FIA Foundation. On Tuesday (SUBS: 8 September), UNICEF and the Child Health Initiative published new global guidance for safe and healthy school journeys during the pandemic and beyond.

The global pandemic has focused public and political attention on the importance for public health of safe and healthy streets. Many cities have introduced new or temporary cycle lanes and widened footpaths, and reduced vehicle speed limits. The journey to school is a particularly urgent issue – more than a billion children are in the process of returning to school over the next few months as governments seek out ways to balance COVID-19 risks with the need for education. Road traffic injury remains the leading global cause of death for young people age five to 29.

 “Reduced road traffic – particularly in areas around schools – has several major benefits. One benefit is an improvement of air quality as less vehicles mean less pollution – which is important for pedestrians and cyclists. In South Africa where close on 40% of all road fatalities are pedestrians, less traffic means streets are safer for them, and all other road users,” says the AA.

 The polling shows strong support for these measures from parents and the wider community.

Worldwide, more than half of all parents with children aged five to 18 (53%) felt streets were not safe enough on the journey to school.

Saul Billingsley, Executive Director of the FIA Foundation, said: “Parents are facing difficult choices about how to protect their children from COVID-19 exposure, dangerous roads, and air pollution while still accessing education. The pandemic has highlighted the vital role of pedestrian and cycling provision in enabling safe social distancing.”

“This polling shows there is overwhelming and wide community support to invest in walking and cycling, and to reduce vehicle access and vehicle speed around school streets everywhere. Local authorities have the public backing to make these changes to streets now, in response both to COVID-19 and the wider challenges of road traffic injury – the leading global cause of death for children and youth – and air pollution. While we await the COVID-19 vaccine we must implement the speed vaccine.”

 It’s a position endorsed by the Automobile Association of South Africa.

Willem Groenewald, CEO of the AA, said: “These findings support a call we made in April that lessons learnt from the reduction of traffic during lockdown be applied once restrictions eased. At the time we noted that now is a good opportunity to re-evaluate public transport, and reimagine better roads for all road users making  them safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and to ease congestion where possible. The results from the YouGov poll affirms that citizens want these measures introduced, and we believe provincial and municipal traffic authorities must pay serious attention to these calls.”

Overall, more than two thirds (69%) of parents would commit to shift modes (i.e. their children do not already walk or cycle) to walking and cycling on the journey to school to support COVID-19 distancing measures if the streets were safe. This represents the potential for a huge change in how journeys are made – reducing pollution, encouraging physical activity, and reducing congestion, while at the same time reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Guidance For Safe and Healthy Journeys To School During The COVID-19 Pandemic

To help manage the risks posed by COVID-19 and ensure the safest, healthiest journeys to school possible, new UNICEF guidance published on Tuesday, ‘Guidance For Safe And Healthy Journeys To School During The COVID-19 Pandemic And Beyond’, aims to help schools, policymakers and local governance to develop the safest, most appropriate interventions to make kids safe as more than a billion young people begin to return to education.

Its ten-step guide highlights the simple, low-cost ways to deliver the street level interventions – so widely supported by the polling – that will not just make streets safer in the pandemic, but in the long-term for children and the wider population. The Child Health Initiative is further calling for a package of ‘Speed Vaccine’ measures – safe footpaths and crossings, cycle lanes and vehicle speed reductions, proven to reduce serious road injury and deaths – to be widely and urgently adopted wherever children and traffic mix.

CAPTIONS: The tweets on social media say it all.

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