— Westport group calls for action on segregated walking and cycling routes to schools.
— Roads are too dangerous and weight of schoolbag, children say.
— 32% of students within 1km and 67% between 1-5km get driven to school.
Despite Westport’s fame for greenways only 1% of 791 students surveyed across three schools in the town cycle to school when 93% cycle outside of school.
The Westport Active Travel to School Group said it is calling on Mayo County Council to “take immediate action” to put safe, segregated cycle and walking routes through the town and on all routes to schools in the Westport area.
The Active Travel to School Group comprises of the Green Schools groups from Brackloon National School, Rice College and Sacred Heart School.
According to the group, the results of the survey of students found that:
- Only 1% students survayed cycle to school.
- 47% travel to school by car with a parent.
- 32% of students living within 1km of school travel by car.
- 67% of students living 1-5k from school travel by car.
- 33% travel by bus (mostly from the longer distances)
- 93% cycle outside school life
- The top 3 reasons they like cycling are fun, fitness and fresh air
- The Number 1 safety concern stopping them from cycling to school is that roads are too dangerous
- The Number 1 other obstacle to cycling to school is the weight of their schoolbag
The survey included 791 students, including 496 girls and 295 boys, ranging from 4 to 18 years.
The group said that the number of students cycling to school has “plummeted since the 1980s” and that “a cursory count” at bike racks in schools, particularly at second level, shows “what was once the norm is now the exception.”
They said that epidemic of childhood obesity and the climate crisis alone should be completing reasons to act.
“Safety is the big concern. With the current national focus on climate action, and significant resources being pumped by government into cycling and walking infrastructure, there has never been a better time for the local authority to address the safety issues and extend the segregated, safe infrastructure around and through the town,” said Gearóid Ó Riain, a teacher in Sacred Heart School.
“Of course, everyone will benefit from that, not just schoolchildren. But the ball is clearly in Mayo County Council’s court,” he said.
Brendan Tunney, Principal of Brackloon National School, which is part of the National Safes Routes to School initiative, said: “The survey results point to several steps we can take to increase the numbers cycling to school. Parents of those students living within 5km of the school — considered easily cyclable in 15 minutes — could wean their children off the car, initially on good weather days or through the organisation of so-called ‘cycle buses’ for younger students, as we have done here in Brackloon.”
Fergal Macken, a teacher in Rice College, recommended that schools carry out a review of school uniform policies, to make it easier and more comfortable for those who opt to cycle.
School bags and uniforms
Ó Riain added: “Schools could review their book and IT policies to reduce bag weight. Sacred Heart School has identified that our Bring Your Own Device initiative has significantly lightened the school bags of this year’s first-year students.”
The group said that it was calling on schools to address the weight of schoolbags and unsuitable uniforms which are hindering children from cycling to school.
He said: “In Rice College we have taken steps in this regard and, on PE days, we now allow students who cycle to school to wear their PE uniform.”
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For a town that is frequently lauded as a cycle hub, this is surprising. I know from living in a suburban town that when decent segregated cycle lanes exist to schools, as we are somewhat fortunate they do here, kids will use them. However, Cian’s article from 2016 clearly outlines some of the deficiencies in the layout and design of the Westport cycle facilities. The emphasis has been on tourist traffic not local viability and practicality.
The weight of schoolbags is a red herring – it is not an issue in Denmark or the Netherlands. Books could be put in saddle bags or boxes so that they are not a weight on shoulders/backs.