|Online Newsletter of the UC Berkeley Traffic Safety Center: Volume 3, No. 4, Winter 2006-2007|
Traffic safety center evaluation delivered to the state legislature
Walking and Bicycling to School
Making It Safe
When communities add bike lanes and traffic signals or upgrade sidewalks and crosswalks, more schoolchildren walk or bike to school, according to a report by the UC Berkeley Traffic Safety Center.
Under contract to Caltrans, TSC prepared a detailed analysis of the state’s Safe Routes to School program, from 2000-2006, which it delivered this month to the California Legislature. The results enlarged upon and confirmed findings by UC Irvine Professor Marlon Boarnet in 2003.
What that study found was that students whose usual route included the area where these improvements were made were more than three times more likely to begin walking or biking than students whose usual route did not pass these improvements, explained Jill Cooper, TSC Assistant Director.
"Similarly, our study found increases in walking and biking to school in areas that had SR2S projects. We also looked at safety outcomes. There were similar decreases in numbers of injuries between Safe Routes project areas and control areas; however, given that Safe Routes projects were found to increase walking and bicycling, this would result in a decrease in the rate of injuries.”
“Both studies clearly show that investing fuel tax funds into Safe Routes to School projects is beneficial and positive in many ways,” added Randy Ronning, Caltrans contract manager for the study. “These projects typically improve pedestrian/bicycle safety, increase walking and bicycling activities by students, decrease traffic congestion around schools, reduce obesity, improve air quality, and improve access and safety for disabled pedestrians. Caltrans supports the program and looks forward to the continuation of the program in the years to come.”
In 1969 about half of all students walked or cycled to school; today that number has dropped to only 12 percent. Walking or biking to school has been replaced largely by parents driving their children, where the increased number of vehicles maneuvering around school yards to drop off or pick up children causes traffic congestion, danger to young pedestrians, and degrades air quality in the area. Over the past 10 years there has been growing concern that the lack of physical activity has also resulted in children at risk for diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Beginning in 2000, the Safe Routes to School program (SR2S) began providing funds to communities through a competitive grant process aimed at
More than 570 SR2S projects have been funded between 2000-2006 at a cost of more than $190 million, including local matching funds. (For more background on SR2S, go to the Traffic Safety Center newsletter, Spring 2004.)
Crunching the Numbers
The Traffic Safety Center’s researchers evaluated 125 projects mostly around elementary schools that were completed during the first three years of funding. They identified a control area in the same city and compared crash statistics in a quarter-mile radius around the school(s) in the project area to the entire control area.
At some sites, personnel conducted observations or surveys to measure change in mobility before and after implementation of the projects. These studies found increase in mobility ranging from 20 to 200 percent. Parents’ estimates of changes in physical activity among their children were more conservative, generally in the range of a 10 percent increase overall.
Walking or cycling—if it can be done safely—not only helps solve congestion problems but also could help improve health among children, Cooper explained. An added benefit is improved mobility and safety for other pedestrians, especially those who are elderly or disabled.
“What worried us when we started the project is that over the past 30 years, the general levels of walking have decreased. So crashes involving pedestrians were down and decreasing anyway. We feared that once more students started walking or bicycling the rate of crashes would go up,” Cooper says. What TSC researchers discovered, however, is that the rate of collisions involving pedestrians did not increase, despite the fact that participating schools were reporting significant increases in the number of students walking or biking to school.
More than half the construction improvements were adding or upgrading sidewalks, and about one-third were intersection upgrades, explained Cooper. Other improvements included traffic calming and speed reduction measures, installation of traffic signals, and construction of bicycle paths.
A Guide to the Future
There is significant movement for efforts that encourage walking and bicycling among children. "What is important here is that there is a lot of interest in increasing levels of physical activity for children, which is very important. But it’s irresponsible to advocate for walking and biking to school unless we also advocate for safety,” Cooper said. “Now we know there are ways that make it safer."
|Copyright 2007 UC Regents Last updated April 25, 2012|