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.

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS:

  • 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).
Research
A Comprehensive Multi-Level Approach for Passing Safe Routes to School and Complete Streets Policies in Hawaii

Policy changes are needed to reshape the built environment for active transportation.

Research
Hawaii’s Opportunity for Active Living Advancement (HO‘ALA): Addressing Childhood Obesity through Safe Routes to School

Increasing active transportation to and from school may reduce childhood obesity rates in Hawaii. A community partnership was formed to address this issue in Hawaii’s Opportunity for Active Living Advancement (HO‘ÄLA), a quasi-experimental study of active transportation in Hawaii County.

Research
Identifying Factors Affecting the Number of Students Walking or Biking to School

This study investigates the characteristics of student travel behaviors before the implementation of SRTS program and identifies the influential factors affecting the number of children to walk or bike to school.

Report, Research
Child Pedestrian Safety Education
Applying Learning and Developmental Theories to Develop Safe Street-Crossing Behavior

This report scientifically reviews the literature on child pedestrian education and discusses possible child pedestrian safety programs that could be more effective in keeping child pedestrians safe.

Research
Creating Physical Activity-Promoting Community Environments: Time for a Breakthrough

This article highlights Safe Routes to School as a promising strategy for increasing youth physical activity and improving health equity.

Research
Research Brief: Walking and Biking to School, Physical Activity and Health Outcomes

This brief summarizes research on active transport to school, physical activity levels and health outcomes.

Research
Creating Physical Activity-Promoting Community Environments: Time for a Breakthrough

This article highlights Safe Routes to School as a promising strategy for increasing youth physical activity and improving health equity.

Research
Changes in the Percentage of Students Who Walk or Bike to School – United States, 1969 and 2001

Data from the 1969 and 2001 National Household Transportation Survey report that a smaller percentage of students lived within 1 mile of school in 2001 than in 1969.

Research
Investment in Safe Routes to School Projects: Public Health Benefits for the Larger Community

This study estimates of the amount of land area and population in the United States that could be affected by Safe Routes to School programs, and examines the types of locations where such improvements are likely to affect the greatest number of people and the improvements it could have on the larger community.

Research
California’s Safe Routes to School Program: Impacts on Walking, Bicycling, and Pedestrian Safety

This study evaluates and assesses 10 Safe Routes to School traffic improvement projects in terms of expected outcomes for pedestrian and bicycle safety as well as for amount of walking.