26 million car journeys to school could be saved by innovative school run scheme

Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity is proud to announce the results of the groundbreaking and highly successful Rural Safe Routes to School programme in Northern Ireland.

Over the past 12 months, Sustrans, in partnership with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and the Department of Regional Development (DRD) have reduced car journeys to school by 27 per cent and increased cycling and walking by a staggering 58 per cent.

The £1.3 million programme has worked with 18 rural schools to introduce practical solutions to the barriers preventing nearly 4,000 children and young people from cycling or walking to school. These have included a raft of measures: new cycling and walking paths, new bike storage, pedestrian crossings, safety lights, new on road signage, and improved school access.

The overarching aim has been to support and encourage children and young people to choose cycling and walking as a way of getting to and from school.

William Methven, Rural Safe Routes to Schools Manager for Sustrans congratulated St Jarlath's PS: "It is fantastic to see that the number of young people walking or cycling has increased by over 50 per cent in the last 12 months. This is children showing adults very clearly the way forward in modern sustainable travel. This is just one example of many great successes across the 18 schools we have been working with. This programme has once again demonstrated that cycling and walking is a viable alternative to the car. If we rolled the programme out across all schools with the same level of success we would see 26 million fewer car journeys to and from school. This will not only reduce congestion and improve our local environment, it will also mean 52,000 young people would be taking regular exercise.

"This dramatic change in behaviour occurred in just 12 months, it is vital that work such as this carries on for many years to come. It shows how partnership working between our young people, civil society and Government can achieve great results in a short period of time. I hope the Rural Safe Routes to School programme will act as a model for future work in every part of Northern Ireland."

Minister for the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew said: "The Rural Safe Routes to School initiative is an innovative project that integrates health, fitness, environmental and safety concerns. It is important to encourage young children and their parents to adopt a healthier lifestyle, and children who stay fit now by walking or cycling to school are more likely to stay active when they are older. This is an excellent example of working in partnership, the involvement of the local school, Sustrans, Road Service, the Department of Education and DARD, all pursuing common goals for the good of local people and the development of the local community."

The measures at St Jarlath's Primary School have included a new bike shed, a new cycling and walking path from the village of Blackwatertown, new safety lights and improved road markings. These simple solutions have seen walking and cycling increase by over 50 per cent. In addition to the new facilities and route, Sustrans has been working with the school to help them develop their school travel plan to further increase the levels of cycling and walking over the coming years. Throughout the year the school has been proactive in putting on mass bike rides and walk to school days.

Minister for Transport, Conor Murphy said: "This is an excellent partnership project that also highlights the benefits of considering alternatives to the 'school run' which accounts for 20% of the traffic each morning and adds to congestion outside schools. I commend the work of all the partners but especially the work of my own Department's Roads Service who were responsible for organising the installation of the school safety zone measures."

Sustrans' Rural Safe Routes to Schools project is funded by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) through the EU Programme for Building Sustainable Prosperity, Department for Regional Development (DRD) Roads Service, the Department of Education and the DOE Road Safety Education Branch.

Source: Sustrans