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Roads around schools need to be made safer so kids can cycle, say campaigners

Parents in Newcastle are experiencing verbal and physical abuse from some drivers while cycling their children to school, the Newcastle Cycling Campaign says.

In an impassioned article the Campaign's chair, Katja Leyendecker, reports "constantly worsening traffic" outside schools where, she says, parents face dangerous road conditions and even abuse from drivers, simply for cycling to school with their children.

Leyendecker urges the council to prioritise walking and cycling, while one parent calls her commute with her kids "scary and dangerous".

"We are majorly concerned. For quite some time now have we been contacted by numerous concerned parents who are telling us that they want to cycle to school but firstly for them to do so the roads and crossings must be made safer," Layendecker says.

"We also have heard that people who do cycle to school with their kids get abuse and insult thrown at them, verbal and even physical, by drivers. These cycling accounts are clearly heart-breaking, as the parents – whilst doing the right thing – are harangued for it. It’s shocking, really. Some have even stopped cycling as the social pressure that’s put on them is too much to bear, we have heard."

Leyendecker wants to see the council design streets outside of the school gates so an eight year old could cycle on them "without harassment or danger levied on them or discomfort to them or their parents."

She said: “It can be done by design and ‘invisible infrastructure’ like car parking reduction strategy, bus-route consolidation, general pricing mechanism and applying Dutch principles of road safety like transport network planning and road classification."

The Dutch road classification system breaks down a street to a single purpose: places where people stay, such as residential and leisure areas, and those people travel through. Under this model those purposes aren't mixed, to avoid having large differences in speed on one street.

Leyendecker points out that in Newcastle, according to the 2011 census, two of five car commutes are less than three miles.

She says: "In the Northeast we are the fattest people in England and treating obesity costs many millions to the Northeast economy."  

Chair of Newcycling's Jesmond branch, Sally Watson, wrote a blog recently on the Campaign's website about cycling with her children to school.

Having filmed the journey one day, she said: "When we watched the film at home I was quite shocked at how scary it all looks. It made me realise that I have become desensitised. Not to the worst of the speeding and close overtakes, but to having to be on the offensive at all times. You can’t hear everything that I say to my son but I am shouting instructions to him almost constantly."

"It is not great cycling across Jesmond as an adult on a bike but it is so many many times worse when you are accompanying a child on their own bike. This is why very few children cycle to school. It is hard work and at times it is scary and dangerous. We live about 3/4 mile from school and it would take very little to make this journey safe."

She said: "I feel strongly that we are failing our children by not making our streets safe for travel and for play."

Some cities, including Edinburgh, are trialling banning traffic directly outside school gates at peak times in a bid to improve safety.