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“It’s a protest every week”: The Glasgow bike bus fighting for safer cycling conditions

The Shawlands Bike Bus on Glasgow’s southside offers children a safe and accessible ride to school. But its organisers also have a bigger goal in mind – making cycling in Glasgow safer and more accessible for all

The Shawlands Bike Bus en route to school

Photo by Katie Cutforth

It’s a typically grey Glasgow Friday morning, but something magical is happening in Shawlands, on the city’s southside. Children in hi-vis jackets are gathering on bicycles, ringing their bells excitedly, while Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day’ blares from the speaker in one of the parents’ backpacks.

After running through basic safety rules and a quick chant of “Bike bus, bike bus, bike bus!”, we’re off! Pedalling down the streets towards Shawlands Primary School as cars pause to let the yellow bubble go by.

This remarkable (and very cute) spectacle occurs every single Friday, with roughly 60 primary school children, parents and volunteers showing up to make the half-mile journey en masse to school.

Local parents Katherine Cory and Gareth Johnson co-founded the Shawlands Bike Bus in 2021 after they realised it simply wasn’t safe or easy for their children to cycle to school.

“There was a sense of frustration from my daughter and some of her friends that they weren’t able to cycle to school,” Katherine said.

“We had been on holiday in Amsterdam visiting friends and she had been able to cycle in bike lanes and had seen children cycling everywhere.”

Inspired by a video on social media of Barcelona’s ‘bicibus’, Gareth and Katherine decided to start their own version in Shawlands. Beginning with just five families, participation has “exploded” and the bike bus now gets a typical attendance of around 60 children and parents.

‘A sense of freedom’

The bike bus’s positive impact on the children has been “massive”, Katherine said.

“The teachers tell us they show up to school on Fridays happy and ready to learn. In my own daughter, I see her confidence growing on the bike – she’s already learning to signal and to make sure she has enough space around her.

“The children also have a community through this. They really enjoy shouting about what they’re doing and trying to get more of their friends to join in. Best of all, they’re learning that if something is not safe or not ok, they don’t just have to accept it – they can do something about it.

“There’s an incredible sense of freedom and joy,” says Katherine. “It feels like we are disrupting the norm and making a point about something.”

Cycling is not currently a common mode of transport for getting to school in Scotland. Cycling Scotland’s Annual Report 2022 found that just 5.3% of primary school children and 1.6% of secondary school pupils nationwide cycled to school in 2021. In Glasgow specifically, those figures drop to 3.3% for primary and just 1% for secondary pupils. This stands in stark contrast to the bike-friendly Netherlands, where over half of education-related journeys are made using bicycles.

When asked about barriers to cycling, the most common reason for not cycling given by participants related to road safety concerns.

Safety is a major concern for the bike bus organisers. During the ride, the adult volunteers form a protective barrier around the children. The group leader also has an innovative device that allows them to keep the traffic light on the main road green long enough for the group to pass through. The first of its kind in the UK, the device was granted to the organisers in September 2022 through collaboration with the local council.

‘Gentle disruptive performance’

For Katherine and the other organisers, the Shawlands Bike Bus is as much about activism, as it is about travel.

“The bike bus is essentially a protest every week – that’s how we see it. It’s a gentle, disruptive performance every Friday,” she said.

The bike bus is a vehicle for kids to learn how to cycle safely and responsibly in the city.

Photo: Katherine Cory

“As much as we love the bike bus, we would love to not have to do it. We want our kids to be able to safely cycle every day without it. It shouldn’t be this hard to cycle to school. We want things to change,” she added.

This perspective is echoed by Dr Deirdre Harrington, a lecturer in Physical Activity and Health at the University of Strathclyde. Dr Harrington is working with Shawlands Bike Bus on research, as part of the university’s newly formed Active Mobility Hub.

For Dr Harrington, the bike bus is a fantastic initiative for getting kids and parents on bikes and being active outdoors on their journey to school. But she emphasises that the necessity of initiatives like the bike bus is indicative of a problem, rather than being a solution in itself.

“We don’t want the bike bus to be seen as a band-aid,” explains Dr Harrington.

“The risk is that there will be calls for every local authority to have a bike bus. That’s not addressing the underlying problem – that our roads are not currently safe for cyclists,” she explained.

For Dr Harrington, the ultimate goal is clear. “Everyone, of any age, should be able to walk, cycle, scoot, and wheel their way to all the places they need to get to,” she says.

“We want Glasgow to become a city that is more walkable, more cyclable, and one where the investment in infrastructure is informed by the people who use it, and that it’s suitable for everyone.

“Our long-term hope is that stakeholders, politicians and decision-makers will see this bike bus, listen to the evidence, and agree that we need to reallocate space on our roads – not just for physical wellbeing but to help us reach our carbon targets.”

Making Glasgow a cycling city

Progress is being made to make Glasgow a safer city for cyclists. In 2021, Glasgow City Council unveiled plans for an Active Travel Network, which would add 270km of “high-quality cycleways and improved footways” to Glasgow’s roads.

The map below shows segregated (traffic-free) cycle lanes that have already been created in the city, as well as future and in-development projects. “Completed” plans are clearly limited in terms of accessing the Glasgow city centre from different areas of the city, while the prospective plans for new cycle lanes are ambitious and would transform the ‘cyclability’ of the city.

The completed and prospective cycle ways on Glasgow’s Active Travel Network.

Map created by Katie Cutforth based on data from Glasgow City Council.


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