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Reluctance On Safe Walking Or Cycling To School Is Climate Change Inaction

All children should be able to travel independently to school. Making it possible for every child to walk or cycle to school is taking action on climate change. In New Zealand, independent journeys can be dangerous as there are no mandatory passing gaps for cyclists and other vulnerable road users. There are also no consistent 30 km/h speed limits outside schools, as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

NZ School Speeds is calling for immediate action to make independent travel safe for all school children. Lucinda Rees from NZ School Speeds feels more action on vehicle use is needed following discussions at COP26, but also notes “New Zealand’s car-centric attitude makes alternative transport dangerous for vulnerable road users”.

Two easy law changes would make journeys safer for vulnerable road users. Many rural schools still have 100 km/h roads outside their gates. There has been reluctance to put consistent 30 km/h speed limit in place outside schools, which would benefit both vulnerable road users as well as drivers. Putting a 30 km/h speed limit in place outside schools is now possible, but councils and Waka Kotahi are reluctant to change despite the Ministry’s ‘Road to Zero’ action plan. According to this plan, “by 2022 there must be a plan for all schools to have lower speed limits in place over the 10 years of the Road to Zero strategy. By 2024, we expect to see 40 percent of schools with speed limits in compliance with the Rule, and reductions in actual speeds in areas where speeds limits have been lowered.” It is now up to the Government to do more than talk - and act.

Children need further safety measures if they are to walk or cycle to school. For many years, the government has had a mandatory passing gap for vulnerable road users “in the pipeline”. Throughout Europe, the recommended mandatory passing gap is 1.5 metres for vehicles travelling at or above 60 km/h, and 1 metre for those travelling below 60 km/h. This has been the norm for a very long time and non-compliance is met with hefty fines. Here in New Zealand, there is just a ‘recommendation’ of 1.5 metres in the road code, which states “Ideally, allow at least 1.5 metres between you and the cyclist”. “So, what happens if a driving situation is not ‘ideal’?” asks Ms Rees. In 2019, the Ministry of Transport published a strategy with “a clear ambition to reduce that trauma by 40% over the next 10 years, while also taking clear steps to ensure that all road users are safe and feel safe when they travel across our country.’ We can’t wait 10 years.

Walking and cycling to school would also bring other benefits to children, including greater exercise and independence, both of which benefit a child’s mental health. Wellington City Council are currently asking for submissions from children about active transport. 

Some of their received responses are:

“It saves petrol, it means that we don't have to pollute the planet. I get exercise, it's fun, and I can do it with my friends.”

“It helps me release my anxiety and gives me joy.” 

“I like biking because it’s fun, good for the environment and I can get to school faster.” 

It is clear that the ability to safely walk or cycle to school benefits children. “In New Zealand, children do walk and bike to school, especially in some cities where separated cycle lanes are in place, but these are not everywhere. Every child should have the opportunity to make their way to school independently and safely,” says Ms Rees. “Something needs to be done now, and this would start with the cheap and easy change of introducing consistent 30 km/h speed limits in place outside every school. Beyond the school zone in rural areas, speed limits of no more than 60 km/h would need to be put in place on roads up to at least 3 km from schools, as children can take the school bus option if they live beyond 3 kms. A slower speed limit, plus the mandatory vulnerable road user passing gap, will make walking and cycling safer.”

“New Zealand wants and needs this. All it takes is a government to act now and put measures in place for the new 2022 term. Children have good reason for partaking in climate action, as it will protect their future. They deserve more from us adults and it is our responsibility to make walking and cycling safe for them.”

© Scoop Media

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