Sustainable School Travel, Controlling Distance and Safety
E de Boer, Delft University of Technology, NL
There is an ongoing process of primary school concentration in The Netherlands, especially by clustering schools on so-called school-islands. The causes of the porocess are described. The worrying consequencesare discussed.
Primary education is an important introduction to individual development. There is no disagreement on it having to be accessible and adequate. Even little gifted children should have physical access to a school, providing education tailored to their needs.
In some countries like The Netherlands and Belgium government financed education is provided even tailored to religious orientation.
Schools are considered to need a minimum size to offer education which is optimal from the point of view of quality and cost.
In The Netherlands the standards for minimum school size have been increased several times in recent decades, for reasons of economy. In doing so population density was taken into account as a proxy for accessibility. For school closures the distance to the next school was considered as well. It leaves middle sized towns with much larger schools than rural areas.
The school may be both an institution and a physical entity. The physical process of concentration is going on, because of a number of factors:
- Institutional school amalgamations from the nineties leading to relocation into a ?uni-locations?,
- The habit in design for new town quarters to group primary schools of different religious orientations into a physical cluster, called ?school islands?, creating pupil concentrations of over 1.000 pupils, five times the mean national school size,
- the addition of education related activities (like psycho-social care) in ?broad schools?, stimulating the creation of school-islands in existing town quarters.
Especially the concentration on school island, with its large number of pupils will be treated. TU Delft undertook an extensive search find out where and why these were created, and, in a series of cases, how these were placed in the town quarter and its network for pedestrians and cyclists. The concept proved to be developed in Amsterdam in the 1920?s and it was applied there most. In the nation?s second town, Rotterdam, it was applied hardly ever.
Of course physical concentration leads to growing travel distances, which stimulate car use, partly because of traffic safety, worsening it at the same time.
Parking is an increasing problem in older neighbourhoods where it is impossible to provide sufficient parking space. In new town quarters the required space for 100 or more cars is sometimes combined with that for shopping malls, making danger even larger.
At present 38% of accidents in which pupils are involved are happening on the trip to or from school.
There are more confusing elements in school travel, regarding both distance and travel mode:
- the relationship between religion and school choice is weakened, staying strong only for orthodox Christian protestant churches and for their schools as well as for Muslim schools (but not for Muslims in general).
- school choice is decided sooner by the pedagogical quality and social climate. Dutch parents tend to avoid from schools with a large portion of pupils with foreign born parents, even when the school is Roman-Catholic. In Amsterdam the school journey for the ?Dutch? pupils is now 50% longer than that for the other ones.
- The tendency for car use is reinforced by combining the parent?s trip with the journey to work,
- Organised school transport, strong only amongst the orthodox protestant, is disencouraged by an increase of the minimum distance to 6km each way.
Schools and local government are not unaware of the problems, including the impact on the growing obesity problem. Yet initiatives to counteract are relatively weak. These include:
- stimulating walking to school, by making pedestrian itineraries safer and enhance ?walking school buses?,
- stimulating biking, for instance on the route from school to (after school) sporting,
- trying to control the traffic chaos by introducing ?kiss-and-ride? facilities.
Initiatives to stop the flight from ?black schools? are developing but these are difficult to effectuate.
Association for European Transport