- On The Road
Today, many motorists relish the school holidays. Not just because they share the pleasure of entertaining children and grandchildren while others are at work, but because the early morning road congestion just isn't there. That will change in about 10 days.
But, I'm not complaining. I know that if I want to avoid that line up of cars at 8.30 in the morning then I need to travel at a different time or figure out a different route.
There are a lot of current issues around transport and schools and it is easy to point the finger at whoever to fix the problem. But schools are an integral part of our communities, and we all need to take some ownership of these issues.
A couple of factors, though, are worth pondering. Firstly, the number of urban schools has not kept up with the growing urban population. Existing school rolls are generally increasing with teaching spaces expanding around existing land. More people are heading in the same school direction.
Secondly, the means of getting to school has changed dramatically. According to Census data released late last year, more than 50 per cent of students get to school in a private vehicle. That's around 580,000 New Zealand students driving or being driven on the road to school every week day morning. Around 200,000 students go on a public or school bus, with the balance either walking or cycling.
The Ministry of Transport's "25 Years of Travel" study released in 2015 indicated that walking and cycling journeys to school had reduced, over the generation, from 54 per cent to 34 per cent for primary school pupils. A quantum shift with an increasing population.
All this adds up to a massive change in the transport environment around our schools and questions are continually being raised about how unsafe that environment has become.
About 18 months ago, the AA did a geospatial survey of 20,000 of its Auckland members, to do some analysis about how people feel about getting their children safely to and from school. More than 1600 people responded with the general finding that many parents and some schools are actively discouraging children from walking and cycling due to a lack of safety infrastructure.
So there's the Catch 22. Parents won't let their kids walk or cycle to school because of the unsafe roading environment but, in driving them to school, they add to the unsafe environment they don't want their kids to walk into.
This situation is a conversation flashpoint, but there is a lot of good stuff going on across a lot of communities. As well, we have emerging legislation designed to make all school environments safer so long as we have the attendant enforcement.
Whangārei District, along with many councils, have developed off-road shared walking and cycling pathways across the city connecting to many schools. The challenge for the council and these schools is to ensure their children use them.
Primary schools are being encouraged to participate in the "Bikes in Schools" programme. An extra $23 million is being provided nationally to roll out to 120 schools. This provides bikes, helmets, storage and an all-weather riding track so that students can learn to ride and practice in safety.
The variable road speed limit at sensitive times is being reduced to 30 km/h for urban schools and 60km/h for rural schools signalling to motorists that they are nearing vulnerable road users and need to slow down.
Councils are being asked by their communities for better school drop-off points, pedestrian crossings, Kea crossings and signage in a challenge to them to help create a safer school environment.
All these, though, require a genuine co-operation and ownership from schools, parents, communities and councils, to help turn around a congested, car-based, unsafe school environment.