Running the School-Run Gauntlet
I have been doing the ‘school-run’ by cargo bike for around four years now. Actually, it started as the playgroup run, then became the nursery run, then the playgroup and nursery run, then the school and nursery run. I am looking forward to next year when both children are in school and my journeys will be simplified to just the school run. Although I am a little bit worried about the dent that will put in my weekly cycling mileage.
Doing the school run by bike was something which I chose. I enjoy cycling, it’s quicker than the car, and I never have to stress about finding a parking space. I was also something which I enjoyed. My kids are in front of me so we get to chat, I get to say hello to the same folk as we pass them on the paths day after day, I love the time outdoors (although ever so slightly less when it is pouring with rain).
There is a section of our route where we ride up a path alongside a road. After school, the road here is always filled with queuing traffic. Four years ago, I remember riding up here daily with the kids waving at the drivers and the drivers waving back.
Right enough there were always idiots on the roads. There were the usual close passes and ignorant comments, but on the whole, cycling to school was a positive experience. Despite my concerns, I was keen to encourage my children to ride their own bikes and enjoy cycling as I do.
I am not sure when this changed to be honest. Cycling to school is now very rarely a positive experience. Cycling to school feels like a battleground recently. I find that I am no longer keen to encourage my children to cycle; it is just too dangerous.
Most days, I do ride the same route six times. The following is a generalisation of how that journey goes.
It starts on a road which is a designated ‘quiet route’. This road is marked as a cycle route. It is also used as a rat-run by the drivers who wish to avoid a section of busy main road. One side of the road is filled with parked cars, which effectively makes the road a single lane. On the way to school, I am cycling on the clear lane, and the cars coming towards me are across the white line, on the wrong side of the road, to pass the parked cars. These cars drive straight at me and my children on the bike, despite me having priority. On the whole, they do not pull in and they do not slow down. They frequently also gesticulate at me with a combination of aggression and disapproval. This week, a taxi driver decided to overtake me and actually brushed my leg with his car as he did so.
We then come to a crossing which is set to take 25 seconds to change, on each side. We usually dd a few more seconds after the light turns red to account for the sheer number of drivers who feel that this red light does not apply to them (mostly, but not always, taxi drivers).
Then we take to the (shared) path. At the moment this is several inches deep in slimy, slippy fallen leaves. In the winter, the path is often too icy to use and we are forced onto the main road instead. There are several people along this path who I say hello to ever morning. I ring my bell and slow down, they move to the side, I thank them, and we all go about our day. However, there are a number of dog walkers who feel that the path should not be shared, and who therefore steadfastly refuse to do anything at all in the way of controlling their dogs. There are also two insane old women who like to periodically leap out in front of me to inform me that I am going too fast (difficult on a cargo bike, even an electric one). One of these insane old women recently informed me that I had no right to be on the path because she lives there and I do not.
Then I have to pass a primary school. I try to get out early in the morning so that the running-late insane drivers are not on the road yet, but sometimes both my children refuse to get their shoes on and getting out takes (considerably) longer than expected. More parked cars narrowing the road to one lane, more drivers driving straight at us.
Next is the highlight of our journey – a crossing which actually changes when you press the button. It’s wonderful. It can be tricky to get on to the crossing due to a tricky angle and a long bike, but at least the lights change.
After that, it’s pretty much roads narrowed by parked cars all the way. Last week there was a huge improvement to our journey as the chicanes which had stopped us from using the cycle route for the past year have finally been removed. Previously we had to divert a little way from the marked cycle route, and instead go through a junction at a blind corner which very few cars seem to take within the 20 mph limit.
The last bit of our journey is through the park where we get to say hello to lots of the children’s friends as they walk to school. This is a nice end to the journey apart from (again) a few dog walkers who feel that I should not be riding through the park (the council sign by the gate says that it’s absolutely fine) as it disrupts their dogs from zig-zagging freely across the path.
Various figures within Edinburgh Council want to make the city a better place to travel on foot or on bike. I think they are wonderful and that they are starting to do great things, despite facing a barrage of (often personal) abuse on social media. I really hope that they can make the difference that they want to.
But we are so, so far away from being a city – or a nation – where active travel is the norm. In my view, as someone who cycles around 100 miles a week, aggression towards cyclists is getting worse. Drivers simply do not think twice about driving headlong at a cyclist – they actually feel that they have the right to threaten people’s lives in order to get where they are going. That aggression is also no longer confined to the roads, it is on the paths too – the shared paths.
I will continue to do the school run by bike. There have been days when I simply have not been able to face the journey by bike again, so I have taken the car – and it is unbelievably slow and stressful. That is the only thing which keeps me travelling every day by bike. Otherwise, I am sad to say that I think I would have given up by now.