My 10 year old boldly stated the other day, that he would give up all of his computer games, if he could just cycle to school!
While he might not be so blasé about it if I one day handed him a bike, send him off and asked him to hand over his Nintendo, children long to be able to move around their neighbourhoods, towns and villages on their own.
It has significant impact on our society when our urban and rural areas are without proper pedestrian and cycle infrastructure and children can not move around self-reliantly. They become dependent on their parents to drive them around and this impacts both their physical and social development as well as their parents lives.
The number of cars on our roads have 10- doubled since the 1960’s (1960: 126,888 - 2014: 1,208,005 cars in the world) - and they are driving faster than ever.
The problems this cause are wide ranging and some of them rarely highlighted.
It is widely discussed that the exercise we get when we commute to and from work and school has proved to be key to a healthy life, keeping fit and mental wellness and without proper infrastructure we are creating a great burden on an overstretched health system.
However, it is a little known fact that without proper child friendly infrastructure it becomes the prime job of one parent to ‘taxi’ them around. For some families this might be a drop off in the morning and a weekend drive to a sports activity, but in particular in rural areas in Ireland where there is no pedestrian or cycle infrastructure at all this is many trips to and from childcare, school, after-school activities etc. every day, making it very often a full time job for one parent to be the ‘chauffeur’.
Not only are teenagers and young people excluded from developing the independence their parents had when they were growing up, walking to school, the shop or their friend’s houses, but it also keeps one parent, very often the mum, permanently out of the job market, with all the social and economic complications this entails. Poor urban design enforces gender inequality and this has major socio-economic consequences.
There is an increased focus on alternatives to the car commute and public infrastructure in cities, but there is very little focus on how to solve this in rural areas. One place to start could be to reduce the absurd 80km/h speed limit on rural roads to make safe walking, cycling and scooting(!) possible - maybe that would get the kids off the couch……and give those Nintendo’s a little rest……