Our beaches and the North Sea are amongst the most beautiful and valuable open spaces in our borough. We know how popular they are with children and young people, with and without families. Holidays and weekends see the beaches and the seafront – playgrounds, cafes, skateparks, green spaces – filled with children and young people of all ages, running around, getting fresh air and playing.
And it’s not just children with their families. Schools from across North Tyneside and Newcastle come to the beach for fun, but also for learning, and pre-school groups use our beaches for play and learning too, introducing our youngest residents to the beauty and value of these ‘blue’ spaces. Youth groups and community centres also bring children and young people to our beaches, those very local to the seafront, but also those for whom access to the sea is further, trickier, and more expensive.
At the moment, access to beach for all these children, young people, and their carers means crossing a fast and busy road, with relatively few crossing points, and in the summer and at weekends, fighting for space along the various promenades and terraces. Children meandering, scooting and cycling can easily come into conflict with slower walkers, with dog leads, and with faster cyclists, for example.
One of the most crucial parts of council’s plans is that the seafront road will be calmed and narrowed at points, and access across improved. The plans will remove conflict, dedicating space to the different forms of mobility along and to the coast. This isn’t about cycling – it’s about making the seafront safe, appealing, to all, however they access it.
Calming and narrowing the road and increasing or updating the crossing points will make it easier and safer to get across the road and to walk along it, especially for those who are not as confident, predictable, or experienced – a category that includes many of our children and young people. These proposals potentially open up safe, independent access for children and young people to the beach from streets and estates all along the coast and for those arriving at the coast by metro from other parts of the borough and from Newcastle, giving those children and young people a wider ‘roaming distance’, allowing them a bit more freedom to meet, play and hangout with their friends on the beach, in the play parks, and in the Panama skate park or the seafront cafes, for example.
As we saw during the time of the temporary Sunrise Cycleway, a safe cycle route along the seafront quickly became a favourite activity for children and their families. Social media was filled with images of children on balance bikes, on their parents’ bikes, in cargo bikes, and on their own bikes. There were many stories of children learning to cycle, or growing in confidence along the cycleway, with dedicated safe space. But we also saw pictures of groups of teenagers cycling together along the coast, maybe between each other’s houses, or on their way to other activities and events. Not only do these plans enable children to achieve more sustainable mobility but encouraging and enabling healthy activities such as walking, cycling, scooting and skateboarding is of course good for children and their families, combatting concerns around obesity, sedentary lifestyles and all the possible associated medical issues.
The Sunrise Cycleway also became a favourite route of organisations like Bike4Health who support children in the borough’s schools to learn to cycle, and to cycle confidently and safely. The seafront cycleway allowed children from schools across North Tyneside to try out longer journeys and connect to our other car-free routes, such as the waggonways.
Let’s hear from a Cullercoats teacher and his class, responding to the news that the Sunrise Cycleway was going to be removed:
And our friend Dude_on2Wheels, who leads rides for children from lots of local primary schools:
The new cycleway plans will also improve cycle – and walking – access to primary, middle and high schools in Tynemouth, Cullercoats, and Whitley Bay, allowing more and more children to switch to sustainable, healthy journeys to school and reducing the extraordinary numbers of cars on the road during the school run. Couple this with expanding school streets and we begin to see how parts of our borough can become safe for children and young people walking, cycling, and scooting to school, and to get around more generally.
Children can’t drive cars, of course, so without relying on their parents for lifts, forms of active travel – walking, cycling, scooting and skateboarding, for example – are their only means of mobility. If we give them a chance to walk, cycle, scoot and skate safely – and enjoyably – we have a chance to instil active travel habits in our younger generations, for all the health and environmental benefits that ensue.
And, let’s not forget, around 30% of North Tyneside households don’t have a car – and many of those households will include children and young people; that’s tens of thousands of children and young people across the borough reliant on public transport, walking or cycling to get to and around the coast.
Of course, one of the motivations for schemes like this is the need to combat climate change and achieve net zero by 2030, the council’s current commitment. This is important for all, but especially for our children and young people who will be living with the consequences of climate change for longer than us adults. The commitment of local children and young people to change is evident in the activities of North Tyneside Strike for Climate, which is restarting its monthly strikes this month.
The immediate impacts of traffic on our environments also affect children and young people more – younger lungs are more susceptible to damage from air pollution, including those particles produced by driving. Research has shown that air pollution can lead to higher levels of asthma, stunted lung growth in children, teenage psychotic episodes, and reduced cognitive ability.
In all these plans, vehicle access to the seafront will be maintained for those that need it, including disabled children and their families, and we’d hope that improving provision for those cycling will also create space for children and young people in wheelchairs and with other mobility aids, as well as reducing any potential conflict with cyclists along the seafront.
And, of course, much of what we discuss here is relevant for other residents and visitors, such as older people and disabled people. It’s often argued that if you create spaces and infrastructure for children, then you improve accessibility for all.
Of course, the infrastructure has to be good – we all benefit from segregated, demarcated paths with good surfaces, free of obstructions. But we need to think too about the particular needs of children, and those travelling with children – do the spaces feel safe, with enough protection for younger walkers and cyclists? could a wobbly cyclist cycle safely and without endangering others? is there room for a parent to cycle with more than one child? how would an adult cyclist with children in bike seats fare, or with children in a cargo bike?
Please do have your say, and please do get in touch with us in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter, if you have suggestions or questions. If you’d like to help us campaign for better infrastructures for cycling and walking on the coast and across the borough, email us.