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11 August, 2004

Children's walking myth challenged?

I don't often quote the University's own press releases, but this one is worthy of debate.

The popular notion that all modern children are chauffeured around by their parents and never walk has been overturned by new research....

I'd have to question whether that really is an accurate statement of 'the popular notion'; it seems a bit absolutist to say "... all modern children... never walk... has been overturned...", particularly considering that the research seems to refer to all journeys, not just those to/from school (which is the way I read it initially). You might like to read the full article; I'm just going to comment on the one aspect with which I have any interaction: the morning 'school run', which coincides with my ride to work.

... walking still accounts for 60% of all trips by 10/11-year-olds in the Lancaster/Morecambe and Manchester/Salford urban areas.
I don't doubt the raw evidence, just the interpretation. This is the one age range of school children which I would expect to walk to school.
They're at primary schools, which tend to be more numerous and closer to pupils' homes than secondary schools drawing pupils from larger catchment areas.
They're also the older children at primary schools (in the UK, primary education is from age 5 to 11, secondary education is 11-16/18), so will tend to be those showing greatest independence ("I'm a big boy now, I don't need to be taken to school."), and most likely to receive parental support in doing so.
It's the younger children who are more likely to be taken to school by protective parents (and the perception is indeed that this tends to be by car); also older children (11-16) who need transport to secondary schools further from home.
The study also found that, despite a predictable increase in car use, walking and buses remained important in the case of 17/18-year-olds and accounted for over 75% of all trips in each town.
Sorry to be pedantic, but Manchester, Salford and Lancaster are cities, and Morecambe could be defined as either a town or part of the city of Lancaster. I suspect this may be relevant to the results, and commuter towns or rural villages might demonstrate a different pattern.

Whatever the data, it's unrealistic to deny that there are congestion and parking problems around schools at 08:45 and 15:30, and that morning traffic as a whole is appreciably lighter during school holidays.
Maybe some of the holiday reduction is due to commuting parents staying at home to spend time with children.
Maybe a majority of pupils do walk, and a relatively smaller number of cars delivering/collecting pupils have a disproportionate impact.
The central point is that a significant, some might say excessive, number of children travel to school by car - maybe not a simple majority, but more than enough to be a planning issue.

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