Wednesday, 15 October 2014

See and be seen!

Lights are on now for the school run and we all need to allow extra time to look out for everyone else on our journey to school. Unfortunately SMIDSY collisions ("sorry mate I didn't see you") happen at any time of year, but in the dark and wet it's worth making an extra effort to see and be seen.

How to learn good road positioning - to see and be seen

Good road positioning for our children crossing the roads or cycling to school becomes even more important when drivers' visibility is worse due to the weather, low sun, mist, fog, rain, darkness. Some drivers set off before completely clearing a frosty windscreen so have a very narrow field of vision. Others are distracted by mobile phones or toddlers. And all brakes are less efficient in the wet.
  • If you haven't taken advantage of the free cycle training from Cycle Confident we strongly recommend that the whole family signs up. The course includes where to position yourself on the road and at junctions as well as making eye contact and clearly signalling intent so that you can best see and be seen. This teaches valuable traffic skills and awareness whether or not you ride a bike regularly, and can help us all become better and more considerate drivers too.

Light up your bike

Make sure you and your children have bike lights and use them. It's illegal to cycle on a public road after dark without white front and red rear lights, a red rear reflector, and amber pedal reflectors. Any local bike shop will be able to help and can also check your brakes and tyres at the same time.

Once you've got the essentials covered you can have lots of fun blinging your bike with any other sparkly stuff including extra lights, and material which reflects light from car headlamps in the dark.
  • Try reflective tape on jackets, gloves, bags, frames and more, or buy reflective panniers or rucksack covers.
  • You can fix extra lights on your spokes, hats, shoes, gloves...
  • Reflective ankle bands are useful as their up and down movement gives a good clue to others that you're riding a bike (performing the same function as pedal reflectors). 
  • You can buy ready-made reflective gear, or add reflective stickers or tape yourself.

Be visible during the day too

In daylight, colours that give contrast to your surroundings can help you stand out. In a grey urban environment this usually means a mixture of bright / light colours.

Make sure you can see - shield your eyes

A peaked cap can help keep rain, sleet or snow out of your eyes, so that you can see what's going on  in plenty of time to make manoeuvres safely. This is especially useful if you wear glasses which can get steamed up and don't have windscreen wipers! If you like to wear a helmet, you can get a helmet with a peak, or wear a cap underneath it.

On foot

  • We all know it makes sense to 'stop, look, listen'. Taking care crossing the road ideally also means finding a well-lit space to cross away from parked cars. 
  • Be patient - remember that cars take longer to stop in the wet, and the bigger and heavier the vehicle the longer it takes to brake. 
  • Depending on the age and road sense of your child, you might want to encourage them to wear a reflective jacket or bag that makes it easier to be seen in the dark. 
  • Some Dulwich roads and paths are not well lit; it can make a walk home in the dark more fun if you carry a torch too.

Behind the Wheel

  • When you're driving in winter, give plenty of space to people on bikes or on foot who might be difficult to see and slower than usual, and might make unpredictable movements if they slip or swerve.
  • Take extra care at junctions, and give way to pedestrians who have started to cross. 
  • Please don't park on double yellows or zig zag lines during their operating hours. It's illegal and makes it much harder for children to find a safe place to cross the road or a safe place to cycle. 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Walking buses and other local efforts

Yuck. The roads are slippery, visibility is poor as it gets darker earlier, numbers of pupils at Dulwich schools are growing and congestion is as bad as ever. Those who sensibly take the 'quiet' back streets were shaken by the recent news that a child was knocked off his bike by a speeding van driver on Eastlands Crescent; another child crossing between queuing traffic was hit by an adult on a bike who didn't see him. Luckily no-one has been seriously hurt so far, but we hear about lots of 'near misses' as a result of thousands of children struggling to school on horribly busy roads.

Despite the conditions, some schools report a dramatic increase in bikes while they've been working with Tim Warin over the last year.  Dulwich Hamlet leads the way with 10% cycling to school "pretty much every day", and many more on scooters and on foot. Brilliant!

It's also very refreshing to see schools with larger catchment areas (and the greatest proportion of children coming to school by car) coming up with their own solutions which work for their families, with small but important actions to try to help reduce congestion and parking problems. Here are some new ways that schools are helping keep the school gates clear and safe for all children, particularly those arriving on their own:
  • Dulwich Prep London has set up a 'walking bus' where parents can drop their children at the nearby pub carpark, to walk the last few steps to school with trusted members of staff. This is a simple but inspiring way of understanding and overcoming existing barriers, and it suits parents who are driving a number of children to different schools. The scheme should help ease congestion on Alleyn Park and Gallery Road, and gradually wean parents off the habit of trying to drive children as close to the school gate as possible. 
  • Dulwich College Junior School, which also has a high proportion of parent-taxis, is keen to establish a similar scheme to try avoid the school gate scrum and its knock-on effects on traffic on Hunts Slip Road and College Road. 
  • Bessemer Grange has gone a step further and is working towards making the part of the street immediately outside the school gates a car-free zone (like a play street) for after-school hours. 
  • Dulwich Wood Primary's Brompton-riding Head is ensuring new separate bike access for the growing numbers of children cycling to school - so they don't get in the way of others walking in, and can go straight to the school's new bike sheds. 
All good stuff! But we are all too aware that many parents and children still feel they have no option but to go to school by car. Without meaningful protected space allocated for bikes on our roads, most families who currently drive will continue to do so.

We know that teams at TfL are busy working up exciting plans for cycling routes across London; unfortunately they have been disappointingly slow in making a decision about Southwark's Cycle to School Partnership bid. We hear that this delay is all tied up with deciding on the routes for Quietways. But for streets around our schools to be most friendly for children and families walking and cycling from all directions we need to think about solutions for the whole area, not just isolated routes. 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

How clean is the air around our schools?

When we met with the Dulwich Society and local residents in the summer, several people raised concerns about air quality. Unhealthy levels of pollution exacerbated by the school run is recognised as a London-wide issue, and the Southwark School Travel Plan Team reports that parental car usage in Dulwich is the highest in the borough: "up to 40% of school journeys being made by private car". 

There are several factors leading to high car use for the Dulwich school run including patchy public transport and higher than average journey distances. But it's in all of our interests to reduce car use for the school run: according to the Environmental team, children suffer the highest exposure to harmful traffic emissions when in the car in the flow of traffic.

What can schools, children and parents do to help improve air quality in their immediate area?

Last year six primary schools across Southwark (including Bessemer Grange) took part in the Southwark Cleaner Air for schools programme. This programme included:
  • Using an Educational Toolkit to raise air quality awareness and teach science and other curriculum subjects. 
  • Engaging the whole school community (eg pupils helping raise parents' awareness of the increased pollution they cause near schools by parking too close and leaving engines idling). 
  • Supporting schools to improve and update their Travel Plans, encouraging active transport (walking and cycling), and if driving is unavoidable, encouraging parents to park well away from school gates ('park and stride') to prevent pollution hot-spots that affect their children.
  • Offering grants to reduce energy use, save money and reduce the school's carbon footprint.
Southwark Council recommends all primary schools incorporate the Cleaner Air for Schools educational programme into the curriculum. A Cleaner Air programme for secondary schools is being developed and should be available later this year. Any school interested in taking part or finding out more can email Sarah Newman, Environmental Protection Officer at Southwark Council. 

We are also exploring the possibility of schools and residents groups taking part in a new air monitoring project to gather data to record air quality in particular streets. This could provide useful evidence when planning new routes and considering the effects of motor traffic emissions. Please get in touch if you'd like to be involved.