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).
Multistate Evaluation of Safe Routes to School Programs

State Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs provide competitive grants to local projects that support safe walking, bicycling, and other modes of active school travel (AST). This study assessed changes in rates of AST after implementation of SRTS projects at multiple sites across four states (Florida, Mississippi, Washington and Wisconsin).

Evaluation, Report, Research
Demonstration of Promising Practices to Increase Proper Bicycle Helmet Use in Middle School Youth

This report summarized findings and lessons learned to increase proper bicycle helmet use among middle school students, based on an 8 week peer-based program. 

Ten Years Later: Examining The Long-Term Impact Of The California Safe Routes To School Program

Background:  California was the first state to legislate a Safe Routes to School (SR2S) program under Assembly Bill AB 1475 (1999). SR2S funds construction projects that make it safer for children to walk/bicycle to school and encourage a greater number of children to choose these modes of travel for the school commute.

Elementary School Participation Safe Routes to School Programming is Associated with Higher Rates of Student Active Travel to School

This research brief examines elementary school administrators’ reports of school participation in Safe Routes to School initiatives and estimated rates of active travel by students, as collected by surveys from administrators at nationally-representative samples of U.S. public elementary schools between the 2006-07 and 2012-13 school years.

Report, Research
Bicycle Safety Education for Children from a Developmental and Learning Perspective

This research is a companion to Applying Learning and Developmental Theories to Develop Safe Street-Crossing Behavior.  It includes a literature review of the developmental capacities of children ages 5 to 16 and associated learning theories, and discusses how this relates to teaching children how to ride bicycles safely.

Report, Research
Compendium of Traffic Safety Research Projects

This report includes brief summaries of research on alcohol-involved driving, drug-involved driving, occupant protection, speed and other unsafe driving behaviors, motorcyclist safety, pedestrian and bicyclist safety, older driver safety, novice and young driver safety, fatigue and distraction, and emergency medical services. 

Effectiveness of a Safe Routes to School Program in Preventing School-Aged Pedestrian Injury

In 2005, the US Congress allocated $612 million for a national Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program to encourage walking and bicycling to schools. The authors analyzed motor vehicle crash data to assess the effectiveness of SRTS interventions in reducing school-aged pedestrian injury in New York City.

Impact of a Pilot Walking School Bus Intervention on Children's Pedestrian Safety Behaviors: A Pilot Study

Walking school buses (WSB) increase children’s physical activity, but their impact on pedestrian safety behaviors (PSB) is unknown. To fill this knowledge gap, the authors tested the feasibility of a protocol evaluating changes to PSB during a WSB program.

Reliability and Validity of the Safe Routes to School Parent and Student Surveys

This study assesses the reliability and validity of the U.S. National Center for Safe Routes to School’s in-class student travel tallies and written parent surveys. Over 65,000 tallies and 374,000 parent surveys have been completed, but no published studies have examined their measurement properties.

A Methodology to Measure Emissions Generated by Automobile Trips to Schools Participating in Safe Routes to School

Vehicular emissions in close proximity to schools can have detrimental health effects on children. The Safe Routes to School program claims to improve air quality through implementation due to reduced volume of traffic generated to schools.