A bicycle means independent mobility for a child. Yet, too often, the child is only allowed to cycle in a safe backyard or will be chaperoned on a family cycle ride on a linear, cycle path through a country park. It needn't be like this...

Cycling has a role to play for children

The Department of Health recommends that all young people should participate in physical activity of at least moderate intensity (eg feeling ‘warm’ and slightly out of breath) for one hour per day. Research indicates that only 55% of boys and 39% of girls under 16 undertake at least 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. (Prescott-Clarke, P. and Primatesta, P. (eds) 1998 Health Survey for England: The health of young people 1995-1997, Vol. 1, London: The Stationery Office)

Some of the reduction in activity levels in recent years has come about because of an increasingly hostile traffic environment, which has contributed to a strong decline in child cycling. (Greenwood, D., Muir, K., Packham, C. and Madeley, R. 1996 Coronary heart disease: a review of the role of psychosocial stress and social support, Journal of Public Health Medicine, 18, pp. 221-231)

In contrast, traffic environments which are supportive of cycling, which control vehicle speeds through cycle-friendly infrastructure such as traffic calming, and include road space reallocation, can include space for children’s play.

Research into children’s play has concluded that: "Children’s needs for safe access to a diverse outdoor environment on the front street and opportunities for extending their free range mobility along footpath networks and traffic calmed roads, needs to be incorporated in the estate design and management process.” (Wheway, R. and Millward, A. 1997 Child’s play: Facilitating play on housing estates, Coventry: Chartered Institute of Housing/Joseph Rowntree Foundation)

Perhaps more importantly however, high traffic speeds diminishes the ability of young people to interact properly with their environment, learn about their surroundings and develop an appreciation of risk and adventure. Streets with speeding traffic do not make good playgrounds. As one correspondent to the British Medical Journal said: “The sad reality is that most streets are now linear car parks with a central race track.” (Guthrie C (2000). Three wheels on my wagon, BMJ 1 Apr 2000)

Source: Cycling and Health, A Briefing Paper for the Regional Cycling Development Team, March 2003

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