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Parents angry that children are being taught to cycle in middle of lane and other “risky behaviour” by cycling instructors, says Bikeability

The national cycle training scheme also claimed record teaching numbers are not converting to regular cycling by families, due to concerns over motorists’ attitudes and lack of protected infrastructure

Despite record numbers of schoolchildren being taught to cycle in the UK, fewer young people are riding their bikes regularly due to concerns from parents about the behaviour of motorists on the road and the lack of safe, protected infrastructure, Bikeability has warned.

The national cycle training scheme, which will teach 500,000 children to cycle this year, has also claimed that, since the 2022 updates to the Highway Code – which aimed to better protect vulnerable road users – parents have complained that their children are being taught “risky” behaviour by cycle instructors based on the changes, such as positioning themselves in the middle of the lane at certain times.

Bikeability’s chief executive Emily Cherry told the Times that the scheme is on course to deliver then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 2019 pledge to offer cycle training to every schoolchild who wants it by next year.

However, with the Bicycle Association noting that children’s bike sales are down 30 per cent compared to 2019, Cherry says that an increasing number of children taking part in the scheme do not have their own bike, while many of those who do turn up with bikes in various states of distress thanks, Cherry says, to their parents not being brought up with the requisite basic skills to fix punctures or check brakes.

And it is concerns over road safety, the Bikeability chief executive notes, that underpin this lack of interest in cycling beyond the school playground.

> School bike racks destroyed by speeding, out-of-control motorist, as pupils and teachers stage protest demanding introduction of 20mph limit

“We have record numbers of children coming through the programme, [but] that’s not converting to children and families regularly cycling, because parents are still too worried about road safety and traffic danger,” Cherry told the Times.

“There are not enough safe routes to schools, we’ve got quite hostile attitudes between drivers and cyclists on the roads, and we don’t have enough safe, segregated cycling infrastructure, which is what parents really want for their children to keep them safe.”

Cherry also said she had received complaints from parents that children were now being taught “risky behaviour” by cycle instructors based on the revised Highway Code, and were teaching them to cycle in the middle of the lane to make themselves more visible to motorists when approaching junctions, traffic islands, or while riding on narrow roads.

According to Rule 72 of the updated Highway Code, cyclists are advised to “ride  in the centre of your lane, to make yourself as clearly visible as possible” on quiet roads or streets, in slower-moving traffic, and at the approach to road junctions or road narrowings where it would be unsafe for motorists to overtake.

She added that the lack of interest in buying bikes for children in the UK has become so severe that Bikeability has been forced to 1,116 bikes to loan to children during their training.

> The Highway Code for cyclists — all the rules you need to know for riding on the road explained

Adam Tranter, West Midlands’ cycling and walking commissioner, agreed that fewer children are cycling to school, a drop he at least partially attributed to motorists “becoming more aggressive and confrontational”, while also asserting that safe infrastructure was an essential component of turning the tide.

“The idea that we should expect children to share the road with a load of congestion, which is inherently unsafe, is a vicious circle,” he said.

“Other parents don’t want their children to cycle to school because it doesn’t feel safe. Infrastructure has to be a part of this, and we can’t expect [to change] anything otherwise.”

Phillip Darnton, chairman of the Bicycle Association, added: “We know that if you don’t teach children to ride bikes when they are nine, ten, eleven, they never learn. It is very, very difficult to get adults to learn to ride if they’ve never learnt when they were children. They become the lost generation, and those declining figures decline further.

“Children’s cycle sales have declined by 31 per cent versus 2019 [to 2022] and we think the 2023 figures might show a decline of 40 per cent.”

Children cycling in pop-up lane (YouTube)

> Teachers say there has been a “seismic shift” in the number of children cycling to school in Oxford – and that bike racks are “overflowing” due to primary school run becoming “cycle central”

It’s certainly not all doom and gloom on the cycle to school front, however – in November we reported that cycling and walking numbers at Larkrise primary school in Oxford had jumped from 65 to 85 per cent this school year alone, with bike racks at the school “overflowing”, according to its headteacher.

And Ellie Armstrong, deputy headteacher at East Oxford’s St Mary and St John Primary School, said: “We have a huge number of children cycling and walking to school. The last time we measured it was 82 per cent, and I think it will be even higher now. This academic year, we’ve really run out of bike space for children, parents and for staff – and we’ve just ordered more stands.”

Nevertheless, Will Fisk, headteacher at the Beeches primary school in Peterborough, told the Times that only 13 pupils had agreed to participate in Bikeability training this year, out of 180 invited to take part. Meanwhile, out of 630 children who attend the school, only eight or nine regularly cycle from home.

“It’s far too low,” Fisk said. “We’d like everybody to do it. We want to educate children that biking or walking to school is much better than cars.”

> “Currently, it is not safe for some children to cycle to school”: Sustrans’ Head of Behaviour Change on “fostering a culture of active travel” in schools

During Cycle to School week last September, Sustrans’ Head of Behaviour Change, Chris Bennett, told road.cc that children and families are currently being “deterred from their right to cycle” by a lack of safety measures around schools.

“Currently, it is not safe for some children to cycle to school. Evidence shows that every month 1,200 children are injured in traffic related collisions that happen within 500m of a school, and this is unacceptable,” Bennett said.

“Dedicated investment in safe infrastructure designed to give everyone the opportunity to cycle safely to school, such as protected cycle paths and School Streets, is needed now, to help generate a culture of active travel.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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48 comments

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Bigtwin | 2 weeks ago
1 like

They do BA at the school along the road from me.  During the quiet times of the day, off the main road, though the school is on the main road.  So it fails to prepare the kids for anything useful like riding in rush hour traffic to school.

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Hirsute replied to Bigtwin | 2 weeks ago
4 likes

Like this ?

//www.imfdb.org/images/thumb/a/a7/ATeamS3_002.jpg/500px-ATeamS3_002.jpg)

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chrisonabike replied to Hirsute | 2 weeks ago
4 likes
Bigtwin wrote:

They do BA at the school...

I pity the school!

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frkrygow | 3 weeks ago
5 likes

Those who have promoted cycling helmets for decades have done so by crying that riding with an ordinary hat is too dangerous. Those who constantly demand segregated infrastructure do so by crying that ordinary roads are too dangerous. So it's little wonder that an entire generation of parents now believe that cycling on ordinary roads while wearing ordinary clothing is too dangerous - data to the contrary be damned.

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Andy79 | 3 weeks ago
5 likes

Parents worried about their children cycling to school because of the traffic that they are creating by driving instead

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Tony W. | 3 weeks ago
6 likes

Parents are worried about their children riding in the road because they're worried they might bump into someone that drives like themselves, a lot of people just don't know what driving with due care and attention is, they would rather kill their own children than drive within speed limits .

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wtjs replied to Tony W. | 2 weeks ago
2 likes

Parents are worried about their children riding in the road because they're worried they might bump into someone that drives like themselves

Agreed! It's all part of the pretence of encouraging cycling while playing up to the drivers in reality. 

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Polinsteve | 3 weeks ago
3 likes

I don't see the problem. If a rider pinches in to a position too close to the kerb, it is an invitation to make an extra lane and encourage cars to pass too close. Riding in the centre of the lane discourages close passing.
All that is needed is mutual respect and a bit of common sense. If there is room, position accordingly. As a cyclist, don't make it a car-bike battleground. There is no need to cause confrontation with motorist and likewise, no need for the motorist to deliberately inconvenience cyclists.
I live in a small village on a popular rote for cyclists and few places to pass safely. It is interesting that some cyclists are happy to work with motorists to allow safe overtaking, while others seem to deliberately obstruct.
We need to share road space with respect and defensive driving and cycling.

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john_smith replied to Polinsteve | 3 weeks ago
1 like

Yes, the reason for pulling out is to stop motorists trying to pass you. I can understand why parents might not like the idea of their child doing it though.

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andystow replied to Polinsteve | 3 weeks ago
7 likes

Yes. I'm wondering what they want their children to be taught to do when they get to a pinch point.

  1. Keep left and hope to not get a close pass
  2. Pull to the side, doff their helmet to their superiors, and stop until there's a gap in traffic
  3. Dismount and go around it on the pavement or in the bushes
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john_smith replied to andystow | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

Whatever's least likely to get them killed, would be my guess.

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eburtthebike replied to john_smith | 3 weeks ago
4 likes
john_smith wrote:

Whatever's least likely to get them killed, would be my guess.

Whilst not expecting the drivers not to kill them.

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john_smith replied to eburtthebike | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

Quite. If you want to survive you have to be prepared for the worst.

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andystow replied to john_smith | 3 weeks ago
4 likes
john_smith wrote:

Whatever's least likely to get them killed, would be my guess.

Right, so take primary.

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marmotte27 | 3 weeks ago
2 likes

It's an endless vicious circle that desperately needs some effing political courage to break! So, not holding my breath for Labour...

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Ken Barker | 3 weeks ago
2 likes

Bikeability training is meant to equip young riders to use quiet roads in traffic, including observation, position, and manoeuvres. They shouldn't need to use or await provision of segregated cycle paths. They make a good point about access to well-maintained bikes though - it's not just about the cycle training or the infrastructure.
If I was head of Bikeability, I would be more positive about the skills learned, and the pathways to the next level (level 3) and opportunities to ride with family members and friends.

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chrisonabike replied to Ken Barker | 3 weeks ago
1 like

Well it depends what you're training for.  I'm sure the training now is good and practical - tailored to staying safe on our sometimes hostile infra (very much not designed for or particularly suited to cycling).  We should be telling positive stories about it, but...

... realistically whatever this training equips kids for most aren't going to use it for cycling much.  In the UK many parents will be nervous about this.  On average you're only going to see a few of them cycling by their teens (to be fair teens the world over tend to get... distracted - they want the things adults have / are doing - not cycling in the UK!).  As we know that drops to a percent or two later in life.

Whether such training does anything for their driving or general road-awareness - which certainly might be useful - is also a question.

Can't blame training for us being we are.  All I can do is note that where there is infra those numbers are a lot higher.  Parents seem a lot happier to let the kids cycle to get where they need.  And they still have training - indeed possibly more [1] [2] - and cycling is a part of school life!

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stonojnr | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

Surprised Kesgrave High School with its claimed near 90% active travel for its 1800 pupils, hasn't been mentioned, Chris Boardman and Active Travel England think its great, and clearly whatever they're doing in Kesgrave is the model to copy. Right?

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sapperadam replied to stonojnr | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

I imagine that the 90% active travel is mostly walking. I used to work in the area and the fact is that Kesgrave is very much a "catchment area" school where houses that can get into the catchment area are very sought after and expensive. It would not surprise me if 90% of students live so close to the school as to make driving take longer than walking!

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Pedal those squares | 3 weeks ago
12 likes

Need to get the parents out on the bikes too.  

I live in hope that if they do....

A) They will apprecaite what its like

B) They then give cyclist room

My fear is if the parents go out on a bike on the road ... it will scare the living sh1t out of them so will then drive the kids to school 🤦‍♂️

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mctrials23 | 3 weeks ago
10 likes

What we should do is just say that any dangerous driving around children gets twice the normal punishment. If you would have got 3 points and a £500 fine, its 6 points and £1000. 

Make them go on a driver awareness course as well just to really bring home how much of a scumbag you have to be to wilfully put the lives of children at risk to save a few seconds. 

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TheUntypicals | 3 weeks ago
12 likes

My kids are discouraged from cycling to and from school by the teachers that tell they are not allowed to cycle to school until year 5 ( the last year). I spoke to a teacher and they said its because they don't have enough bike parking which is rubbish. The teachers themselves have plenty of private parking and none cycle to work.
At other schools I see cycle lanes and pedestrian crossings outside schools blocked by parents dropping off or collecting
kids  2

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IanMK | 3 weeks ago
1 like

' The national cycle training scheme, which will teach 500,000 children to cycle this year'
So possibly up to a million parents/drivers now know how to treat vulnerable road users.

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belugabob replied to IanMK | 3 weeks ago
2 likes

You're attributing too much logical thinking skill to folk ..

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xtrand | 3 weeks ago
19 likes

How about parents got angry with irresponsible and dangerous drivers?

The reason why cyclists and moped drivers are taught to ride in the middle of the road is that it should discourage angry drivers from doing unsafe overtakes.

However, when the police and courts allow drivers like Clifford Rennie back on the roads to keep driving without looking at the road ahead and killing cyclists, the theory doesn't work.

It's a fcuked up society where the right to drive carelessly and dangerously is prioritised above the rights to go about your daily business without getting killed.

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NOtotheEU replied to xtrand | 3 weeks ago
15 likes
xtrand wrote:

How about parents got angry with irresponsible and dangerous drivers?

They are the dangerous drivers so they know just how at risk their kids are.

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mctrials23 replied to xtrand | 3 weeks ago
11 likes

Because drivers don't like to think that drivers are the problem...because they are a driver. Parents driving their little darlings to school are a massive part of the issue. They are stressed, don't pay attention to the road as their focus on their kids in the back shouting and arguing and have some god given right to dominate the road because they are taking their child to school. Fuck the rest of you. 

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massive4x4 replied to mctrials23 | 3 weeks ago
0 likes
mctrials23 wrote:

Because drivers don't like to think that drivers are the problem...because they are a driver. Parents driving their little darlings to school are a massive part of the issue. They are stressed, don't pay attention to the road as their focus on their kids in the back shouting and arguing and have some god given right to dominate the road because they are taking their child to school. Fuck the rest of you. 

"Drivers" aren't the problem infrastructure is, if drivers were the main problem accidents would be equally distributed on all roads and points on roads. Accidents occur where traffic conflicts and there is lots of distraction, poor sightlines and road surfaces. These are the places where "human error" is most likely to cause an issue.

I suspect that most car/cyclist accidents are SMIDSYs rather than from close passes or similar aggressive behaviour which is mostly directed people on this board not against school children. SMIDSY is mostly solved by infrastructure and familiarity (more cyclists).

It wouldn't be too difficult to write policy that would mandate that all primary school catchments must have a network of cycle paths that means that 80% of children are with 200m of one. And politically cycle paths to schools is actually something difficult to oppose. The networks can then be developed into more comprehensive networks.

The thing most people here won't like is that if you want to copy the Dutch the UK will need more and better roads. The Dutch drive further than British people so all the pictures of road space given over the active travel don't show all the bypasses, dual carriageways and 14 lane motorways a few miles away.

The key deal is that bikes and pedestrians get the direct route but cars get less direct expressways which go past fewer peoples homes. Since car journey times are mainly governed by how often they stop, going the longer way isn't a massive issue if it's purpose built infrastructure. This might not be possible in London but it certainly is in most medium to large cities.

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chrisonabike replied to massive4x4 | 3 weeks ago
2 likes
massive4x4 wrote:

 It wouldn't be too difficult to write policy that would mandate that all primary school catchments must have a network of cycle paths that means that 80% of children are with 200m of one. And politically cycle paths to schools is actually something difficult to oppose. The networks can then be developed into more comprehensive networks.

Having witnessed a couple of local people opposing making their own street - with their child's school on it - one-way during covid-era rapid infra changes, I am not even so confident of that!  However you're right, where we should be campaigning is around children and their safety, health (active travel) AND independence.

massive4x4 wrote:

The thing most people here won't like is that if you want to copy the Dutch the UK will need more and better roads. The Dutch drive further than British people so all the pictures of road space given over the active travel don't show all the bypasses, dual carriageways and 14 lane motorways a few miles away. The key deal is that bikes and pedestrians get the direct route but cars get less direct expressways which go past fewer peoples homes. Since car journey times are mainly governed by how often they stop, going the longer way isn't a massive issue if it's purpose built infrastructure. This might not be possible in London but it certainly is in most medium to large cities.

Some truth to that - and the driving is good in NLI'm not sure we need to copy everything (they do like a car - and building stuff there!).  OTOH we don't seem capable of copying much and when we do we manage to get the wrong end of the stick almost every time.

Having said that - given how the UK already has a fair enthusiasm for building roads (though not as much as eg. the US) would much change?

We should definitely look at how excellent public transport really helps though - and how integrating that with cycling / wheeling gets people moving efficiently and removes a lot of the need for (and negatives of) private car journeys.

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sapperadam replied to massive4x4 | 3 weeks ago
0 likes
massive4x4 wrote:

It wouldn't be too difficult to write policy that would mandate that all primary school catchments must have a network of cycle paths that means that 80% of children are with 200m of one. And politically cycle paths to schools is actually something difficult to oppose. The networks can then be developed into more comprehensive networks.

I'm not so sure about that myself it might work in some places but of the four primary schools near me, not one of them could practically have cycle paths installed near them. Or at least, not without some very expensive compulsory land purchasing. The roads in a lot of these places are simply too narrow to do any more. In some cases, to get even a modicum of infrastructure, you'd even need to demolish houses to stay on the same path! That's for every single school in the area. So what about going round instead? Even more expensive land purchasing as it is all agricultural land, it simply wouldn't happen.

Look at any campaign against off road cycling paths that use disused railway lines. That's using land that is easy to convert to cycle networks, and people complain about it because they "don't want hordes of cyclists spoiling the countryside".

So, yes, you'd be surprised at how easily some people will be vocally against something that seems like common sense to you or I.

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