Meaningful investment in walking and cycling infrastucture is required to ensure every child is able to travel to school safely and with confidence, according to the charity Sustrans.
Figures published by the charity show only 2% of primary school children in England currently travel to school by cycle, far lower than many countries, such as in the Netherlands, where the figure is 49%.
The mark the start of Bike to School Week, Sustrans is calling for urgent action from governments at all levels to ensure every child is able to travel to school on foot or by cycle in safety and with confidence.
Organised by Sustrans and supported by the Bikeability Trust, Bike to School Week celebrates the benefits of travelling actively for children.
The 2019 edition, which uses the hashtag #BikeToSchoolWeek on social media, takes place between 23-27 September.
Sustrans has also published the findings of a survey, suggesting 90% of parents and residents would support closing streets to cars more regularly outside schools.
Out of 954 respondents, 75% were worried about the health impacts of exhaust fumes on pupils during school drop off and pick up times – while 72% agreed that where road closures had taken place, the street felt safer to use.
A recent freedom of information (FOI) requests from UK100, a network of local leaders that campaigns on clean air, revealed only 0.4% of primary schools introduced ‘school streets’ to deter parents from driving their children to school.
Xavier Brice, CEO at Sustrans, said: “We all know that we are living with dangerous levels of air pollution in our towns and cities.
“Despite this, the latest figures from the National Travel Survey show that 45% of primary school children in England travel to school by car – a 1% increase from last year’s figures.
“These figures are worryingly high, with the average journey to primary school being just 1.6 miles – a distance that can be easily cycled. To see an uptake in cycling, we need to make it easier for families to walk and cycle to school.
“This will prevent those most vulnerable, such as children, from being exposed to toxic levels of air pollution while enabling them to easily slot in physical activity into their day.”