With crocuses pretty much done and daffodils coming on like a billion smiles, Spring is here, which means Walk to School Week can’t be far away. Although these pages have seen little on this topic, it is one on which I could bore for Scotland. This is for three very good reasons:
- The education, health, security and welfare of its children is a major measure of any civilisation; most serious accidents involving children happen on busy roads.
- Various studies have shown that children who walk to school regularly and through whatever our Scottish weather may throw at them not only stay healthier but arrive at school alert, awake and ready to learn.
- The unsupervised “chumming” of one another to/from school is a key factor learning social skills, making friends and learning about/from each other.
Parents don’t set out to endanger their own or any other kids but especially around the larger primaries, bringing kids by car is a beguiling option if you’re busy/late, driving that way in any case and—most perversely—concerned about their safety, especially in bad weather. Generally, East Lothian parents have a pretty good track record on Walk-to-School year round. But the statistics from recent Walk-to-School weeks have shown a negative trend:
The trend is clearly more cycling (which is good) and car (which is not) use at the expense of walking. And while one in ten pupils arriving by car doesn’t sound bad, consider a 600-pupil school like Law that shares a campus with a 900-pupil high school and a popular gym/swimming pool, the last of which gets used as an unofficial drop-off area. Those 60 vehicles for Law mostly arrive in a ten-minute window when teachers’ cars, buses and gym customers add up to give a vehicle every couple of seconds while 400 pedestrians and 120 bikes are pouring past them.
All this is bad enough if the bulk of cars arriving were Minis, Kias, etc but North Berwick favours the Chelsea Tractor to an extent that seems almost inconsiderate because few primary pupils are tall enough to be seen behind them and so can pop out unexpectedly. Although almost all parents at Law are careful and considerate, both the crossing guard and the community police officer have hair-raising tales of drop-offs at blind corners, from moving vehicles or even on the traffic circle inside the campus—off-limits at school time because of the bewildering density of foot traffic.
Of course, not everyone lives within a reasonable distance to walk. But even those from the country can take the advice of the Junior Road Safety Officer volunteers in Law (and many other primaries) who have laid out maps of alternate drop-off point nearby (e.g. Gilbert Avenue) that avoid bringing a vehicle into school traffic but involve no more than a 200m walk. There have also been walking buses in the past approaching along Lochbridge Road and Trainer’s Brae that parents have joined at points away from the school. If they are not now running, the upcoming Walk to School Week in May would be a good time to revive them; contact myself or the school.
That said, the bulk of drop-off car traffic at Law (as well as Dunbar, Windygoul, etc) is from within the town from well intentioned parents who may not appreciate either the desirability of alternatives nor the extent to which danger levels rise for other pupils just as they try to protect their own. Once the Grange Road development gets underway, the school roll will rise significantly and the problem will only get worse—unless a concerted effort is made to encourage and choose the healthier alternatives.