Environment News by Zaria Greenhill 

While it’s relatively easy to live car-free in carefree youth, we often change our perspective if we become parents. You take home an impossibly tiny, precious little bundle from the hospital, and suddenly it seems that the only safe way to transport your child around is by car. But is that really true? And is that really best? 

In Lewisham a full fifth of us are under 19. A baby-boom around 8 years ago overfilled a few primary schools and led to many, many parents doing the school run in the car, which contributes to congestion and bad air quality. Most schools encourage pupils to walk and cycle, but the school run overall still swells the rush-hour traffic.  

Climate Action Lewisham has teamed up with Lewisham Cyclists and we have funding to run Lewisham Family Cycling Library: a lending library of kit for transporting young kids around by bike. In pride of place is an e-cargo bike. This means that you can strap your youngsters in, charge up the battery, and let it help you up the hills of Lewisham, with your kids and the shopping in the front box.  

Apart from helping to reduce congestion and removing car-fumes from the local air, there are other benefits to cycling with kids. Firstly, it’s great exercise (you’ll never need the gym again, trust me), even with a battery to help. Most importantly, you’ll be helping your children’s health: the most air pollution inhaled by people in traffic jams is by those inside the cars themselves, as the air enters the car through the ventilation system but is unable to dissipate, unlike in the outside air. This means that nitrogen dioxide can accumulate dangerously for passengers inside: more noxious to young lungs.  

Under pressure, Lewisham Council has implemented 26 ‘School Streets’ where roads are closed to motor traffic at drop-off and pick-up, discouraging parents from driving their kids to school. If you think you need to drive your kids to school, think again: could you take them in a cargo bike? Or a child-adapted trailer or a tagalong? If you gave it a go you’d have the satisfaction of avoiding contributing to toxic air pollution, especially if you’re able to keep going and make cycling with your kids a habit, not just a one-off. Best of all, your children will love it! Kids love bikes, and you’ll be teaching them how to move around without resorting to a car: sustainable citizens of the future.  

Climate Action Lewisham want to speculate about what a car-free world might be like, and Lewisham Cyclists were among the first local branches of the 40-year-old London cycling campaign. Lewisham Cyclists offer cycle training, family cycle rides and Dr Bike sessions, where they’ll give your bike a safety check and do repairs for free. See more about Lewisham Cyclists on their website: https://lewishamcyclists.org.uk/ 

Lewisham Family Cycling library will be launched on 1st May, at the Catford end of Ladywell Fields, near the corner of Bourneville Road, the orchard and the play area, from 11am to 3pm. Dr Bike will be available on a first-come-first-served basis, but you’ll need to book a broad time-slot to try out the e-cargo-bike with your family, or any of the other bike-tech that we’ll have available to try. Find all the info, including how to sign up for a timeslot, here: https://climateactionlewisham.org/lewisham-family-cycling-library/ 

Zaria Greenhill is Chair of Climate Action Lewisham