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.

18 Replies to “Running the School-Run Gauntlet”

  1. This is so sad. Unfortunately, I agree with the lady. I’ve experienced even worse treatment by drivers.
    Maybe there should be a national government initiated campaign telling drivers to be alert for and respectful towards cyclists, at the same time, also informing drivers that cyclists have rights too.

  2. This makes me feel extremely sad. I’m sorry to say that I agree with Diana. There is progress, and more drivers are more alive to the needs of cyclists and our right to be on the roads than before, but at the same time I am increasingly aware of being an object of hatred by people who would happily kill me if it wouldn’t increase their insurance payments. On which subject the recent proposal to reduce insurance costs for drivers who have taken a cyclist-awareness course sounds a move in the right direction, but presumed liability, which is in force in most European countries, and which would do more than anything else to improve the behaviour of drivers – and cyclists! – was not even mentioned. (Presumed liability is the legal assumption that in any collision the user of the more dangerous vehicle is assumed to be at fault unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary. A collision between a motor vehicle and a bike is the driver’s fault unless proved otherwise and a collision between a bike and a pedestrian is the cyclists’s fault unless proved otherwise.)

  3. As others say, reading this made me very sad. Anyone who does the “school run” by bike, and not car, is my hero. I cycle regularly here in Oxfordshire as well as outside the county, and although I often experience the far-too-close pass I haven’t experienced the nastiness and aggression from drivers that you clearly do. Maybe that’s partly because I’m not generally cycling at the school run time of day. Or maybe it’s just not so bad down here – who knows? But on the positive side, your post has just served to make me even more determined to try and do my bit to get more people onto bikes, and to make the whole business of cycling safer. I joined Cycling UK last year for that reason.

    I sincerely hope that you keep doing the school run by bike.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Don’t worry, I won’t give up. I can’t really, I would miss it far too much. I remain hopeful that this will pass and we will start to see more positivity on the roads and paths soon!

  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I do a home-nursery-school-work (and vice versa) commute on my cargo bike with two kids in Winchester, and just recently it occurred to me that most days, when I get home, the first thing I report to my husband is the level of aggression and sheer stupidity we’ve just experienced on the roads. We have a relatively short commute, and actually most of it is on genuinely quiet streets, however even then we still see some appalling, dangerous driving. This happens all year round, but particularly in the winter, when drivers are keen to get home quickly (which is obviously no excuse). Sometimes I actually think people (mainly drivers, but sometimes pedestrians too) just simply don’t like the fact that we dare to do things differently (by cargo biking), and communicate this in the way that they engage with us on the road or shared paths – i.e. disrespectfully and aggressively. I won’t ever stop cycling with the kids – as you say in your blog, there are so many reasons why it’s great – but I find it tricky and, quite honestly, tiring to challenge the instances of aggressive and dangerous driving we see on a daily basis, whilst also trying to show my kids that cycling is enjoyable and safe for them.

  5. As a fellow Edinburgh cargo school runner I feel your pain……but whenever I feel the same a quote from my childhood (Dr Seuss’ Lorax ) jumps into my head, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Just by being out there, you are an inspiration to many that it can be done, and eventually things will get better for us all. So thank you.

  6. What a shame! I have had the same experience commuting solo. My partner’s experience on the roads was so bad that I was forbidden for riding on the road with my children, and the non-militant part of me has had to concede he may have a point as the drivers can be really dangerous – a risk I’m prepared to take for myself but not with my two little ones in the trailer behind. Anyway, I’ve passed your post onto a friend who used to work for Sustrans in Edinburgh and asked if she knows anyone who can check out your concerns and this particular route with you. That won’t go any way to address the cultural forces at play here but maybe there’s some way the route can be improved? Good luck!

  7. I also bike (bike/train/bike) commute in Edinburgh and encounter a rat run (South Gyle). I have also done the school run with the kids on bike + trailer bike in Fife. I’m fortunate not to have experienced the same as you. Bike commuting just works for me.

  8. Hi Diana,
    I am so sorry to read about your experience. I live in London with considerably higher amount of cyclists yet I see examples of the same on school run or elsewhere. Impatience, self- entitlement, risky behaviours, exaggerated reactions . My own assumption is that almost all the media is pitching one way of transport against the other. Tabloids relish in perpetuating deep generalisations,lies and provocations as BBC called the situation on the road ‘a battle’repeatedly. The tolerant mindset of the nation somehow doesn’t apply once sitting in a two tonne metal box. I hope the mindset will change. Meanwhile,keep cycling,alas,with eyes wide open.

  9. What a difference a country makes! My 5.5 year old daughter cycles to school on her own bike. 1 km away.
    It just happens to be in the centre of Amsterdam, NL: Passing cars and lorries slow down or stop respectfully.

    1. So jealous!! I don’t dare let my 6.5 year old cycle on his own bike to school. It’s such as shame. I love my cargo bike but the children get no more exercise as passengers than they would in a car.

  10. Shame it’s getting that bad. I’ve heard similar stories from commuters about conditions worsening so you’re not alone. I’m lucky my commute is a bit quieter.

    Have you asked neighbours or friends what they think about the rat run street near you? If other people don’t like it, maybe you could ask local councillors about filtering it in middle (keeping local access from each side but blocking through traffic). Keep road flat so folk can cycle through but not drive. See examples using bollards and nice planter boxes in this Mini-Holland article: https://www.palmersgreencommunity.org.uk/pgc/planning-all-subjects/cycle-enfield/1188-a-tour-of-waltham-forest-s-mini-holland

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