2nd October is National Walk and Bike to School Day in the USA, an initiative started in 1997 with the aim of improving students’ health and pushing for roads to become safer.
The initiative is a huge success in the US, and when us lot found out about it, we wanted to chat about the ways that choosing to walk instead of drive to school, work, or just out and about, can have a long-lasting impact not just on your health but on the environment around us here in the UK as well as overseas.
Transport is the biggest source of air and noise pollution in the UK. According to Environmental Protection UK, of the 34 million vehicles on our roads, 28 million are cars, and road transport is one of the biggest sources of pollution in the UK, contributing to poor air quality, noise disturbance, congestion and climate change. Road transport accounts for 22% of total UK emissions of carbon dioxide, which is a major contributor to climate change.
With so many cars on our roads, the impact of carbon dioxide is getting worse by the day – and as our understanding of its detrimental effects grows, there’s not much excuse to keep destroying the air we breathe.
That’s why we think National Walk and Bike to School Day is such a great idea: because it has the potential to not only reduce emissions for a short space of time, but to act as a demonstration, and draw attention to how easy it is to avoid unnecessary carbon emissions.
The fab news is that there are schemes in the UK, too, which encourage walking and biking to school. Living Streets is an organisation with a simple aim: to get every child that can, walking to school, for the same reasons that we think it’s so important. Living Streets say that walking to school has the threefold benefit of healthier, happier children, less congested streets and cleaner air.
Living Streets has been campaigning for safer streets for 90 years, but has shifted its focus to include the benefit of cleaner air for all who live in cities and congested areas as the damaging impact of traffic pollution has become ever more evident.
October also marks the beginning of International Walk to School Month, and this year Living Streets want to make the walk to school safer and easier for everyone.
Living Streets use real action to put pressure on local councils, staging road closures to force people to walk and urging people to write to their local councillor to appeal for changes to congestion in their local area.
The pressure from groups like Living Streets has had a successful impact – in 2017, the UK government announced their Cycling and walking investment strategy, which set out the government’s ambition to make walking and cycling a natural choice for shorter journeys and as part of longer journeys by 2040.
It goes to show how far people power and pressure can go: that if we lead by example, we can make real change.
And, if you’re feeling a bit peeved that we’re banging on about how easy it is to walk everywhere when you’re living far away from any public transport, and miles walking distance, even small changes to your lifestyle can have a huge impact; walk and ride - or walk and stride – schemes mean that you don’t have to drive all the way into busy cities, so you can still reduce congestion and air pollution.
So, if you’re going to walk or bike to school this month (or at all in the future), here are our top tips:
- Wear at least one piece of bright or reflective clothing, especially on dark winter mornings and evenings – though we want streets to be safer, they aren’t always there yet, so it’s best to stay safe.
- Walk in groups if possible – not only does it make the work more enjoyable, but it’s safer, too.
- Make sure you’ve had something to eat! There’s nothing worse than getting ten minutes into your walk and realising you’re starving. You need energy for the day ahead, and too many people forget to make time for breakfast in the morning – when it’s the most important meal of the day!