Key Safe Routes to School Research

Practitioners implementing Safe Routes to School programs, or other active travel promotion programs, have a large scope of issues to address.

This section is a collection of research that evaluates current Safe Routes to School programs and identifies issues to consider when implementing new programs. Findings from these studies can provide insight into the cost-effectiveness of programs, impact of school siting, and how gender and socio-demographic factors can influence active travel to school.

Also included in this section is academic literature reviewing legislative policies that can provide practitioners with information regarding potential funding opportunities and policy trends that influence active transport initiatives. Many of the articles in this section directly reference Safe Routes to School programs.


  • Safe Routes to School programs have shown a 37 percent increase in bicycling and walking where projects have been undertaken. (Stewart, 2014)
  • Specific to Safe Routes to School, introducing a program focused on education and encouragement increased bicycling to school by 5 percent each year.  When programs also incorporated infrastructure improvements like sidewalks, crosswalks and covered bicycle parking, the rate of bicycling and walking improved to between 5 percent and 20 percent (McDonald, 2013).
  • One study reports that the national Safe Routes to School program has the potential to positively influence individuals, communities, and the environment regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status by providing funds to address some of the barriers and improve the ability of students to safely walk and bicycle to school (Martin, et al., 2008).
  • The findings of an analysis of walking and biking to school among low-income and minority youth in the United States has significant implications, reporting that Safe Routes to School programs have the potential to strongly benefit minority and low-income students, especially because many of those students are more likely to live near the school they attend (McDonald, 2008).
  • The odds of walking and bicycling to school are 40% lower in girls than in boys (McMillan, et al., 2006).
  • Results show that children who pass completed Safe Routes to School projects are more likely to show increases in walking or bicycle travel than are children who do not pass by projects (15% vs. 4%), supporting the effectiveness of Safe Routes to School construction projects (Boarnet, et al., 2005).
  • A review of the success of the Safe Routes to School program in Marin County reports a 64% increase in the number of children walking to school, a 114% increase in the number of students biking, and a 91% increase in the number of students carpooling (Staunton, et al., 2003).
  • State-funded Safe Routes to School projects are increasing active school travel: In a study of four states (Florida, Mississippi, Washington, and Wisconsin) after the implementation of Safe Routes to School projects, walking to/from school increased from 9.8% to 14.2%, and bicycling to/from school increased from 2.5% to 3%. Active school travel increased overall from 12.9% to 17.6% (Stewart et al., 2014).
  • In New York City, areas with Safe Routes to School interventions found a 44% reduction in child pedestrian injury rates during school travel hours, while other areas had no change. Implementing Safe Routes to School programs in New York City cost $10 million, but the estimate reduction in health costs for injury, disability, and death was $221 million (Active Living Research, 2015).
  • Children attending schools that favor and support active commuting are most likely to engage in various types of physical activities and meet recommended daily levels of physical activity. This underscores the importance of Safe Routes to School as effective public health interventions to help children attain recommended physical activity levels (Ward et al., 2015).
  • In a study of 18 states, Safe Routes to School programs were associated with a 14-16% decline in pedestrian and bicyclist injury risk and a 13% decline in pedestrian and bicyclist fatality rate (DiMaggio et al., 2016).
  • A study of Safe Routes to School programs in Phoenix, Arizona found that norms play a powerful role in active transportation to school: Children are more likely to walk or bike to school if they perceive it to be normal and acceptable, and parents are more likely to let their children walk or bike to school if they feel that enough other parents allow it, too (Ross et al., 2017).
Transport and child well-being: An integrative review

Key takeaway:

  • This review examines evidence that transport affects children’s wellbeing in five domains: physical, psychological, cognitive, social, and economic. Most benefits are associated with active and independent travel. 
Associations Between the Physical, Sociocultural, and Safety Environments and Active Transportation to School

A growing body of research shows that there are three primary domains that influence young people’s active transportation to school: the physical environment, the sociocultural environment, and the safety environment. 

Journal Article, Research
Bicycle Trains, Cycling, and Physical Activity: A Pilot Cluster RCT

Key takeaway:

  • Bicycle trains significantly increase children’s cycling to school and overall daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA).


Examining Practices That Promote Access to Safe Routes to School Programs in Vulnerable Communities

Key Takeaways: While states define vulnerable communities differently, this study provides an overview of a number of common practices that states employ throughout the Safe Routes to School program process to allocate greater funding to low-income and/or disadvantaged communities.  

Active transportation to support diabetes prevention: Expanding school health promotion programming in an Indigenous community

Key takeaway:

  • This study documents the implementation of Active & Safe Routes to School (ASRTS) in an indigenous community in Canada.
National Safe Routes to School Program and Risk of School-Age Pedestrian and Bicycle Injury

In this study, the Safe Routes to School program was associated with an approximately 23 percent percent reduction in pedestrian/bicyclist injury risk and a 20 percent reduction in pedestrian/bicyclist fatality risk in school-age children (5-19 years) compared to adults (30-64 years). 

Association Between School Policies and Built Environment, and Youth’s Participation in Various Types of Physical Activities

School environments that support active commuting best encourage young people’s participation in different types of physical activities. 

Integration of BIM and GIS for Formal Representation of Walkability for Safe Routes to School Programs

KEY TAKEAWAYS: The authors produced a standardized method for assessing and visualizing walkability in communities for ease in implementing the evaluation and engineering E’s of Safe Routes to School, consequently reducing CO2 emissions and improving student health.