Schools across Northern Ireland reclaimed their car parks today and turned them into fun creative places as part of Sustrans new Feet First Families Initiative.
Most children in Northern Ireland that we have surveyed as part of the Active School Travel Programme want to walk, cycle or scoot to school but less than half do. Despite the fact that fifty per cent of primary school-children live within a very walkable mile to school, almost two thirds (65%) are driven to/from the school-gates.
In fact one in four cars during the rush hour are doing the school-run adding to air pollution and congestion which makes the school journey more hazardous.
“ Helping families to ditch the car in favour of walking or cycling is a great way of keeping children active and healthy. ”
Sustrans Active Travel Manager, Beth Harding said: "Feet First Families was a great success today. It was an opportunity for schools to see what it would be like if we all travelled actively to school. So much of the space around our schools is dedicated to car parking and why should that be the case?
"I was at Orangefield Primary School today in east Belfast where the pupils and teachers have come up with some creative ideas to reclaim the car park, turning it into a cycling obstacle course and fun play area. But it wasn't just here in east Belfast but schools right across Northern Ireland, from Rosemount Primary in Derry~Londonderry to Bocombra Primary in Portadown enjoyed transforming their school space and seeing what it can be like free of cars."
Dr Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation supported the initiative. She said: "Helping families to ditch the car in favour of walking or cycling is a great way of keeping children active and healthy. It's also the best way to reduce the current dangerous levels of air pollution.
"We know that toxic air is particularly damaging to children's growing lungs. There are links to lung infections, underdeveloped lungs and emerging evidence of the impact on cognitive development. Few things are as precious as our children's health. Which is why we cannot allow toxic air from vehicle emissions, particularly diesel, to put their lungs at risk."
The initiative was endorsed by former World Champion cyclist and Olympic Silver Medallist, Lizzie Deignan.
“My introduction to sport and fitness started when I began walking to school,” Lizzie said. “You can join in and be part of the campaign starting with Feet First Families on 9 March.”
The Feet First Families Initiative is a one-day event but with the long-term aim of changing travel habits. It is part of our award-winning Active School Travel Programme, funded jointly by the Department for Infrastructure and the Public Health Agency, which encourages school-children to walk, scoot or cycle to school.
We are currently working with more than 280 schools, both primary and post-primary, across Northern Ireland to promote active travel on the school run and it has seen great results.
In the schools where we have worked in 2016-17, the number of children walking and cycling to school rose from 36% to 46% with a corresponding fall in those driven to school – down from 56% to 47%.