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473700-00031-1 Report Abstract

Children and Transportation: Identifying Environments that Foster Walking and Biking to School

Byoung-Suk Kweon, Woo-Hwa Shin, Robert Folzenlogen and Jun-Hyun Kim, Texas A&M University, September 2006, 37 pp. (473700-00031-1)

Few children walk or bike to school. In fact, less than 13% of children in the U.S. walk or bike to school and 85% of trips to school are made by car or school bus (United States Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2004).  Almost 50% of children walked or biked to school in 1969 (United States Environmental Protection Agency [USEPA], 2003).  Did changes in transportation infrastructure contribute to this reduction in walking and biking? What new changes should be made in transportation infrastructure today to reverse this trend and provide a greater likelihood that children will walk or bike to school?

Although there is very limited understanding of how pedestrian environments influence children’s walking and biking to school, previous research shows that physical environments can foster non-automobile mode choices to school.  Landscape buffers and trees add to parents’ perceptions of their children’s safety and increase their willingness to let their children walk to school (Kweon, Naderi, Maghelal, & Shin, 2004).  Ewing (in press) also found that more children walked to school where there were sidewalks.  In addition, Safe Routes to School programs increase children’s walking to school (Staunton, Hubsmith, & Kallins, 2003).

Physical environments can also be a barrier to children walking and biking to school.  In fact, in a study completed by the CDC (2002, August 16), distance was found to be the number one barrier to children walking to school.  Texas along with many other states established 2mile school walk zones measured by the nearest practical route from the school attended.  However, particularly in the U.S., why distance is the dominant factor in determining walk zone policies and what an appropriate distance might be for walking to school have yet to be consistently documented.

In this research we investigated how additional physical attributes (e.g., street pattern, land use, housing density, environmental content) in the pedestrian environment influence children’s walking and biking to school.  We also measured what school children consider walkable and bikable distances to school.

One hundred eighty six parents from four school walk zones in College Station, TX participated in this study.  They reported their children’s commute modes, routes to school and perceived walking and biking environments to school.  Satellite imagery and spatial data from the College Station Geographic Information Services were used to further investigate distances to school, environmental content, surrounding land use, and street patterns.

Results indicate that children walk more in older neighborhoods with mature trees while they bike more in newer neighborhoods with more sidewalks.  Also children who live on cul-de-sacs walk to school less than those who live on grid streets.  Also, children’s walking is also significantly  related to housing densities and mixed land use.  Contrary to the popular 2mile walk zone guidelines, the mean distance for walking in this study is .71 miles while the mean distance of biking is .93 miles.  On average, children who live beyond 1 mile from their school either ride in a car, car pool, or pay a transportation fee to ride a school bus.  These findings are being used to shape better school walk zone guidelines in support of active and healthy communities.

Keywords: Walking and Biking, Children, School Walk Zone, Pedestrian Environment

ENTIRE REPORT (Adobe Acrobat File – 3.8 MB)