When Liam Agius found out he could go to school by bicycle, he got the registration paper and proceeded to ask his parents. They did not let him at first because they were scared for his safety.
“But after we talked about where I am going to pass from and who I am going with, they said ‘yes’,” he said.
Liam now cycles from Żurrieq to St Benedict College, Secondary School in Kirkop and back.
Safety is, in fact, one of the main reasons why parents will not let their children go to school by bicycle. They are worried because every part of the route can be dangerous.
Through the EkoSkola Year 10 committee, St Benedict’s has helped us students considerably, showing us how to be safe on the road and how to take precautions like wearing a helmet all the time. The school also encourages us to come to school by bicycle because it is good for the environment and for our health.
The EkoSkola committee at our school, coordinated by Mr Spagnol, regularly updates its Green School Travel Plan and, in this regard, has understood the importance of having suitable bike racks and safer routes. At present, the bike racks hold up to 15 bicycles, upgraded from three spaces in 2021.
Christine Pace, who guides the Year 10 Ekoskola students, said the Ekoskola Year 10 Committee is currently working on safer routes for schoolchildren who come to school on foot or by bike.
With regards to safer routes for cyclists, I asked Liam Agius and Kraylee Micallef for their opinion, and both told me that drivers are careless, and they fear getting hit by someone. Our students also get scared because it is easy to lose their balance when drivers honk the horn at them, so they wish to see better road rules.
In this light, I contacted the local councils of Kirkop, Żurrieq, Safi and Mqabba, and sounded the students’ concerns and suggested some ideas to protect schoolchildren who cycle to school, namely that they install cameras, which deter careless drivers and are useful in case of an accident and to add bicycle lanes.
Dino Bonnici from the Żurrieq local council replied that he is in favour of cameras and that they must ask Transport Malta to see if and where they can add bike lanes.
Furthermore, Tiffany Attard, secretary of the Guardian for Future Generations Board, proposed a meeting to discuss a project which the board is working on at grassroots level.
“To give you a brief overview, the aim of the project is to co-create a safe and secure pedestrian pathway for schoolchildren walking from their homes to school, and back, on a daily basis. An ideal school would be that of St Benedict in Kirkop since students from the urban localities of Żurrieq, Safi and Kirkop, can easily walk to and from,” Attard said.
“The Guardian, while implementing this project, would like to consult with students in order to receive their feedback on what the Guardian can do to promote walkability, community building, safety and security with an aesthetically pleasing environment.”
After we attend this meeting and by working together and taking steps to create safer and more bike-friendly routes to school, we can help ensure that children who choose to bike to school are able to do so safely and with confidence.
“Be sure that you know what route your child will be riding to school and ensure that the route is age appropriate”
Another way to make biking to school safer and more enjoyable for kids is to create a bike-friendly environment at school. This can include installing more bike racks or adding bike lockers, providing tools for bike repairs and encouraging more teachers and staff to bike to school as well.
The website Verywell Family has some tips to make it easier for kids to bike to school. It, first of all, suggests to test the route.
“Be sure that you know what route your child will be riding to school and ensure that the route is age appropriate,” the website says.
It also mentions safety helmets and safety gear, something that some kids don’t wear because they think is uncool.
“Your child will obviously need to have a well-functioning bicycle that fits their body, and that they are comfortable riding. You probably also know that your child will need a well-fitted bike helmet. There are a variety of colours and styles available that meet safety standards, ensuring that your child will like wearing their helmet.”
Remember that safety should always be the top priority when choosing a route for children. It’s important to be cautious and take the time to find the safest options.
Naya Fenech wrote this piece as part of the Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) programme, which is designed specifically for secondary and post-secondary students. Every year, workshops on environmental reporting are organised and students submit articles, photos and/or videos to take part in a competition. Local winners are announced by mid-May and international winners on June 30. More information can be found on https://www.yremalta.org or https//www.yre.global/.
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