New research confirms the benefits of the Safe Routes to School program

By Bill Holloway
Recently published research in the Journal of the American Planning Association provides strong support for the Safe Routes to School program’s ability to increase rates of walking and biking among students. The authors analyzed changes in the number of students walking and biking to school at 801 schools in District of Columbia, Florida, Oregon, and Texas, roughly split between those that had implemented SRTS projects and those that had not. They modeled the impacts of SRTS participation in general, as well as the impacts of specific types of SRTS measures—infrastructure improvements to bolster cyclist and pedestrian safety, education and encouragement to promote biking and walking among students, and enforcement of school zone traffic safety laws.
After controlling for neighborhood characteristics and other factors, the researchers found that schools deciding to participate in SRTS can expect to increase the rate of walking and biking to school among their students by about 31 percent over the next five years. For example, a school where 18 percent of students bike and walk to school could expect 23.5 percent of students to bike or walk to school after five years of participation.
Among SRTS program types, infrastructure improvements, such as building or improving sidewalks, crosswalks, or bike paths, were associated with an 18 percent increase in walking and biking among students.  This increase did not depend on how long the improvement had been in place. Education and encouragement interventions yielded, on average, a 25 percent increase in student biking and walking after five years. The researchers did not find impacts on biking and walking rates due to greater traffic safety enforcement.
The study further confirms the substantial changes communities can make in student travel behavior through targeted infrastructure improvements along with education and encouragement to promote bicycling and walking among students.
Bill Holloway is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.