The 1970s were a pretty exciting time. It was the decade of Gough Whitlam and disco and psychedelic rock reigned supreme. A house in Sydney only cost $36,000 and 75 per cent of kids rode or walked to and from school.
Flash forward to today and it is a very different story. A recent study conducted by Bicycle NSW found that only 30 per cent of students walk or ride to school.
We need to ask what that means for congestion, for our environment, for public health and for the wellbeing of our kids.
The key reason parents and carers do not let their kids walk or ride to school is because they are worried about their safety: They do not want their children to be hit by a car. That fear is not unfounded.
In fact, a recent study by the Australian Road Safety Foundation found that the most dangerous time to be on our roads is the afternoon at school pick‑up time. Road trauma is the number one killer of children aged 14 and under.
According to the Department of Premier and Cabinet's figures, only 26 per cent of children are active enough to meet our health guidelines. Frankly, that is not good enough.
Encouraging more kids to ride or walk to school would not only make them healthier but also would cut emissions, improve air quality and significantly benefit our morning commutes.
Every day motorists make millions of short car trips of less than five kilometres. A 5 per cent reduction in those trips would cause traffic speeds on local roads to increase by up to 50 per cent. We would experience the school holiday effect on our roads 365 days a year.
What can we do to make it safer for kids to walk and ride to school?
First, we must fix local traffic problems. It is not acceptable that people report problems only to be ignored and that issues fall between bureaucratic cracks or are simply put in the too‑hard basket.
Secondly, we need to properly invest in the necessary infrastructure to make riding and walking safe. Currently, only 0.38 per cent of the New South Wales budget for new transport infrastructure is allocated to active transport and cycling projects. Our State spends only $7.20 per person on active transport infrastructure, compared to more than double that amount in Queensland—$15.08 per person—and $35 per person in the Australian Capital Territory. The lack of investment in New South Wales is failing our kids and our community.
Thirdly, we need to start listening to the experts—the parents, carers, teachers, principals and residents around schools who know what needs to be fixed. They should not be ignored.
State MPs are currently running the New South Wales School Safety Survey. The survey is an important opportunity for locals to report road safety risks near local schools.
When I ran the survey in my electorate last year hundreds of residents raised concerns about parking, reckless driving, the inadequacy of pedestrian crossings, school drop-off and pick-up zones, congestion and confusing street signage. Residents noted that pedestrian crossings are often in the wrong places, fail to reflect the routes taken by students and have poor sight lines for motorists. Schools continue to beg for flashing lights to slow down drivers and for crossing guards to make sure kids make it safely across the road. School P&Cs and principals reported that applications for flashing lights or crossing supervisors at busy crossings had been rejected because of the ridiculous formula applied by the Government.
Currently, a school gets a crossing supervisor or lollipop person only if a count demonstrates that a high number of children are crossing unsupervised. Frankly, that is ridiculous. If a crossing is known to be dangerous, what parent is going to let their child cross unsupervised? Perversely, the result is that school communities with the most dangerous crossings miss out on a lollipop person who can keep those kids safe.
In other instances students were left to simply fend for themselves. One example in my electorate is Carrington Road, Marrickville where students at Tempe High School and Tempe Public School are left to run the gauntlet of cars and trucks. I understand that the Inner West Council and the former Roads and Maritime Services agreed to proceed with work before the school year began, but are being held up by Ausgrid works. That work needs to be done. I have asked the Energy Minister to work with Ausgrid to get it done so that the kids can travel safely to and from school.
Together, we can solve these problems.
I encourage all New South Wales residents to take the survey at nswschoolsafety.com and let their local member know about the school safety issues that need to be addressed.
We want to hear from the residents who know what is best for their communities. We can ensure that councils and the State Government are held to account and fix the problems so that more kids can walk and ride to school.
Together, we can make it better for our kids.