ACT Health established programs to encourage walking and cycling to school in 2012. A decade later, most schools still do not participate in these programs, and the participation rate for secondary schools is much lower than for primary schools. The ACT Government is slow to improve infrastructure around schools for active travel. International studies tell us that roads must be seen to be safe for these programs to succeed. What will it take to change this?
At face value, walking and cycling to school should be popular in Canberra, as we have so many schools that are distributed across the whole of the city (figure 2). The schools are not all the same, with primary schools far more common than schools for older students (figure 3). Of course, too, we have government, private, and Catholic divisions. In the last 15 years, only about a third of children walk or ride to school (figure 1). The adoption of ACT Government programs to encourage active travel still have a long way to go (table 1 and figure 4).
Data from the ACT Government’s Open Data Portal provides information on many areas of interest, including schools. We have 244 schools in the ACT and much of the population would live close enough to a school to walk or ride (see figure 2).
The ACT Government offers a number of programs to improve the health of school students, including active travel programs for both primary and secondary schools. For those program to succeed the infrastructure around schools must be improved to make it safe for parents to allow their children to ride or walk to school. Active Streets is the name of this infrastructure program, which is currently underfunded.
The programs to encourage children to walk and ride to school are not new. Department of Health started the secondary and primary program in 2012 and 2015. In 2018, they were passed to TCCS. 62% of all primary schools are participating in the Ride or Walk to School program. The uptake on secondary school program It’s Your Move program is much lower at 17%. Finally, only 11% of the schools have benefitted from infrastructure improvements from the Active Streets program.
We will need to do a lot more if we want children to ride or walk to school.
How common is walking or cycling to school?
In the 1970s, most children took themselves to school. The past is another land and people live there differently. The congestion now within a kilometre of a primary school confirms that most children are chauffeured to school. Here is one study on active travel on the topic.
The ACT General Health Survey (GHS) tells us that only a third of children walk or cycle to school. We hit a peak in 2012 but it has not recovered since.
Figure 1: ACT GHS – Children who walk or cycle to school
Many schools well located for active travel
Figure 2: The green circles show that much of Canberra has a school just 600 m away. 171 of the 244 schools in Canberra are shown on this map.
Schools for senior years – secondary and college – are generally much bigger than primary schools. For this reason, primary schools are much more numerous. Travel to a secondary school or college is also likely be a greater distance. This may not bother a cyclist, however, public transport may be more attractive than walking for others.
Figure 3: Breakdown of schools by type in the ACT
School programs to promote active travel
The ACT Government offers school programs for both primary and secondary schools to encourage active travel – walking or riding to school.
- Ride or Walk to School (RWTS) – primary schools
- It’s Your Move (IYM) – secondary schools
- It’s Your Move Safe Cycle (IYMSC) – secondary schools
- Active Streets – all ages
Table 1: Schools participating in active travel programs
Figure 4: Schools participating in active travel programs. BLUE shows the schools participating compared to the number of schools that are not.
TCCS fails for our school kids
Mr David Matthews, Executive Group Manager, Education Directorate, reported to the Standing Committee on Education and Community Inclusion the glaring inadequacy of the infrastructure around schools. canberra.bike has published many articles about the challenges our children face walking and riding to schools. The community irritation can be seen in the flood of ACT Legislative Assembly e-Petitions for traffic calming (LATM in TCCS speak).
Talk is cheap, however. Minister Steel should drop the platitudes and instead take action with adequate funding. We would rather spend hundreds of millions duplicating roads than improving the infrastructure around our schools.
“5.109 While there is a glaring need for better drive-through and ‘kiss-and-drop arrangements’ several schools have experienced only negligible improvements in traffic and parking from the traffic management plans and active travel routes developed by Transport Canberra City Services.” 233Managing ACT School Infrastructure, Standing Committee on Education and Community Inclusion, May 2022, Report 3, 56.
233 Mr David Matthews, Executive Group Manager, Education Directorate, Committee Hansard, 7 March 2022, p. 135