Published: 27th SEPTEMBER 2019

Helping York schools cut congestion

The historic university city of York has always attracted a higher than average number of people on bicycles, but car travel and traffic congestion continues to rise. Parents driving the school run is a major part of the problem.

Since 2009, iTravel York employed us to work with 40 schools throughout the city to help get more children and parents cycling and walking their daily journeys.

York’s flat medieval streets and scenic riverside make it a great city for cycling and walking, and a lot less suitable for cars. Cycle commuting is higher than average in the UK, at around 15%, and many people live within a short walk or bike ride from the city centre.

In spite of this, road traffic clogs the city’s old road network and iTravel York has been looking at various ways to encourage people to try active travel, particularly for the school run.

In 2008, the city was designated as one of 12 UK cycling cities and towns, with £4.3million funding from the Department of Transport, which allowed cycle infrastructure to be installed around the city, including £0.5 million on safe routes to schools. The city also benefitted from a further £4.4 million from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

The Challenge

York has higher than average numbers of children regularly cycling to school, at over 20%, and the city’s schools are regular prize winners for our annual Big Pedal, but numbers are still low compared to cycle-friendly countries such as Denmark or Holland.

Many of the ‘easy win’ solutions for schools in cities with less of a cycling culture had already been achieved, so our schools officer Erin Gray worked with parents and their children to identify what was deterring them from trying active travel.

Erin says: “We focussed on those parents who are commuting across or beyond the city and wanted to drop off their children by car before continuing their journey.

“For these groups, we worked on overcoming potential barriers parents might have and getting them to consider other options.”

Signed up schools receive a package of fun activities to help engage with children and their parents, including bike breakfasts, ‘bling your bikes’ surveys about how kids travel to school, bike maintenance sessions, and work with the wider community to improve streets for cycling and walking.

Additional activities to encourage behaviour change include:

  • Postcode buddying to encourage parents to share the school run with local families
  • A five-minute zone around the school where families are encouraged to walk, cycle or scoot the last section of the journey
  • Actively promoting parking facilities provided 5-10 minutes’ walk away from the school
  • Since 2009, children and young people at Bike It/Travel2School schools have participated over 110,000 times in various cycling, scooting and walking activities. (Participations don’t necessarily equal children – as some children take part in more than one activity/event.)


  • Since 2009, children and young people took part over 110,000 times, in walking, cycling and scooting activities
  • Participating schools saw an average increase of 1.6% in children travelling by bike, scooter, walking and ‘Park & Stride’ in just two years.
  • Big Pedal 2017 saw a record number of 24 schools participating)

“We’re continually amazed at the organisation, creativity and activities from the schools officer”, says Christine Packer of iTravel York. “At a time when staff are very stretched, Erin takes the pressure off schools and does the work for them.”

A legacy for the Future

The schools programme is designed to develop a long-term culture of cycling in the school community long after funding has stopped.

“The idea of the programme is that it’s intensive to start but more hands-off later," says Erin.

“We’re now developing a Champions Network for schools which teaches them to do activities, share best practice and sets them up with a set of resources and a wider community of more established schools.”

The schools work also complements iTravel York’s other cycling activities including a family ride programme, the festival of cycling, Cycle City and Park and Ride.

Derek McCreadie, Head of iTravel York, said: “The feedback has been excellent for the Sustrans programme. The engagement with schools is very good for getting and retaining buy-in.

“Where there’s an opportunity to offer to a school that has had the programme before they are usually very keen to re-engage.”

Case study: St. Oswald’s CE Primary School, York

St. Oswald’s CE Primary School in York engaged with Bike It in September 2016, after concerns were raised around safety, congestion and air pollution in the school car park and along key routes to school.

Headteacher Rupert Griffith is also a keen cyclist and wanted to encourage active travel as a way to promote healthy lifestyles among pupils and help address some of these issues. 

Throughout the year, the school has run numerous events and lessons including popular activities such as a Bike It Breakfast, ‘Learn to Ride’, cycle and scooter sessions, and a ‘Get it Bright’ safety event.  They also achieved a fantastic 47.4% daily average of pupils cycling or scooting to school during the two weeks of the Big Pedal 2017 challenge week.

To address the safety concerns and to empower the pupils to take the lead, a new Active Travel Crew was set up. These pupils wrote and conducted a travel survey, asking parents about their opinions and ideas to improve the car park and area outside the school.

Several classes also undertook a postcode plotting activity and explored where classmates lived and how they travelled.

The school’s project culminated in pupils in Year 3 and 4 using Sustrans Big Street Survey resources to investigate the area around their school, and identify what they liked and disliked and create designs to make the streets safer for everyone.

Adrian Mann, Year 3/4 class teacher, said:

“This has been a very empowering and exciting experience for the children. It’s been wonderful to see their passion and enthusiasm for improving their local area. They’ve some great ideas to address the issues identified through our learning walk and Big Street Survey activities.”

Find out more about our work with schools

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