U.S. School Travel, 2009 An Assessment of Trends

Department of City and Regional Planning, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA.
American journal of preventive medicine (Impact Factor: 4.53). 08/2011; 41(2):146-51. DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2011.04.006
Source: PubMed


The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity has set a goal of increasing walking and biking to school by 50% within 5 years. Meeting the goal requires a detailed understanding of the current patterns of school travel.
To document nationally representative estimates of the amount of school travel and the modes used to access school in 2009 and compare these levels with 1969, 1995, and 2001.
The National Household Travel Survey collected data on the travel patterns of 150,147 households in 2008 and 2009. Analyses, conducted in 2010, documented the time, vehicle miles traveled, and modes used by American students to reach school. A binary logit model assessed the influence of trip, child, and household characteristics on the decision to walk to school.
In 2009, 12.7% of K-8 students usually walked or biked to school compared with 47.7% in 1969. Rates of walking and biking to school were higher on the trip home from school in each survey year. During the morning peak period, school travel accounted for 5%-7% of vehicle miles traveled in 2009 and 10%-14% of all private vehicles on the road.
There have been sharp increases in driving children to school since 1969 and corresponding decreases in walking to school. This increase is particularly evident in the number of vehicle trips generated by parents dropping children at school and teens driving themselves. The NHTS survey provides a unique opportunity to monitor these trends in the future.

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    • "For example, those who regularly walk to and from school are more active overall than those who are driven (Active Healthy Kids Canada, 2014; Faulkner et al., 2009; Mackett, 2013), have greater and/or different knowledge about their neighbourhood environment, and potentially a stronger sense of community (Active Healthy Kids Canada, 2014; Fusco et al., 2012). In addition, recent research in the US estimated that 10–14% of all private automobiles on the road during morning peak hours are related to school trips (McDonald et al., 2011). Notably, most of these school trips are relatively short, and can potentially be substituted by other more sustainable options such as walking, cycling and transit; modes that if used could reduce vehicular emissions, free up road space during peak hours, and reduce the risk of pedestrian–motor vehicle collisions (Badland and Schofield, 2005; McDonald et al., 2013). "
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    ABSTRACT: A child's school travel behaviour may change with the transition toward adolescence. However, the topic remains understudied in current literature. This paper examines school travel mode choice behaviour of 11-year-old children and 14–15 year old youth in Toronto, Canada. Morning period school trip data was analysed using multinomial logit models. Distance to school was the most important barrier to walking for both age groups; neighbourhood built environment characteristics (i.e., major street intersections, retail density and block density) had a stronger association with a child's odds of walking; and access to transit was correlated with only a youth's travel mode outcome. In addition, a male youth was more likely to walk than a female youth; gender of a child was not associated with school travel mode. As school travel related programmes are beginning to be adapted to the high-school context, our results indicate that a current North American model that is largely designed around capital improvement of transport infrastructure may not be very successful. Rather, programmes and initiatives should emphasize education, and perhaps attempt to understand and reshape the culture of youth mobility, in order to encourage healthy and sustainable travel practices.
    Full-text · Article · Aug 2015 · Transport Policy
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    • "Some studies have even shown active commuting to school to be associated with better weight and metabolic outcomes [3,4], and biking to school to be associated with higher cardiorespiratory fitness [5,6]; however, results across studies have been less consistent [7]. While active commuting appears to have important health benefits, the proportion of students who walk or bike to school in the US has declined substantially over the past 40 years [8,9]. While 41% of students walked or biked to school in 1969, this proportion decreased to 10% in 2009. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background Promoting daily routine physical activities, such as active travel to school, may have important health implications. Practitioners and policy makers must understand the variety of factors that influence whether or not a child uses active school travel. Several reviews have identified both inhibitors and promoters of active school travel, but few studies have combined these putative characteristics in one analysis. The purpose of this study is to examine associations between elementary school children’s active school travel and variables hypothesized as correlates (demographics, physical environment, perceived barriers and norms). Methods The current project uses the dataset from the National Evaluation of Walk to School (WTS) Project, which includes data from 4th and 5th grade children and their parents from 18 schools across the US. Measures included monthly child report of mode of school travel during the previous week (n = 10,809) and perceived barriers and social norms around active school travel by parents (n = 1,007) and children (n = 1,219). Generalized linear mixed models (GLMM) with log-link functions were used to assess bivariate and multivariate associations between hypothesized correlates and frequency of active school travel, assuming random school effect and controlling for the distance to school. Results The final model showed that the most relevant significant predictors of active school travel were parent’s perceived barriers, specifically child resistance (Estimate = −0.438, p < 0.0001) and safety and weather (Estimate = −0.0245, p < 0.001), as well as the school’s percentage of Hispanic students (Estimate = 0.0059, p < 0.001), after adjusting for distance and including time within school cluster as a random effect. Conclusions Parental concerns may be impacting children’s use of active school travel, and therefore, future interventions to promote active school travel should more actively engage parents and address these concerns. Programs like the Walk to School program, which are organized by the schools and can engage community resources such as public safety officials, could help overcome many of these perceived barriers to active transport.
    Full-text · Article · May 2014 · International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
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    • "Despite its potential health benefits, rates of active commuting to school (e.g. walking and bicycling) have plummeted over the last four decades in the U.S. In 2009, only 12.7% of elementary and middle school students walked or biked to school compared with 47.7% in 1969 [12]. Several reasons for this sharp drop in active commuting to school (ACS) have been identified by parents with school-aged children (5-18 years old), including distance (62%), traffic-related danger (30.4%), weather (18.6%), crime (11.7%), and school policy (6.0%) [13]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Empirical evidence of the relationship between safety concerns and walking to school (WTS) is growing. However, current research offers limited understanding of the multiple domains of parental safety concerns and the specific mechanisms through which parents articulate safety concerns about WTS. A more detailed understanding is needed to inform environmental and policy interventions. This study examined the relationships between both traffic safety and personal safety concerns and WTS in the U.S. This cross-sectional analysis examined data from the Texas Childhood Obesity Prevention Policy Evaluation (T-COPPE) project, an evaluation of state-wide obesity prevention policy interventions. All study data were from the survey (n = 830) of parents with 4th grade students attending 81 elementary schools across Texas, and living within two miles from their children's schools. Traffic safety and personal safety concerns were captured for the home neighborhood, en-route to school, and school environments. Binary logistic regression analysis was used to assess the odds of WTS controlling for significant covariates. Overall, 18% of parents reported that their child walked to school on most days of the week. For traffic safety, students were more likely to walk to school if their parent reported favorable perceptions about the following items in the home neighborhood environment: higher sidewalk availability, well maintained sidewalks and safe road crossings. For the route to school, the odds of WTS were higher for those who reported "no problem" with each one of the following: traffic speed, amount of traffic, sidewalks/pathways, intersection/crossing safety, and crossing guards, when compared to those that reported "always a problem". For personal safety in the en-route to school environment, the odds of WTS were lower when parents reported concerns about: stray or dangerous animals and availability of others with whom to walk. Findings offered insights into the specific issues that drive safety concerns for elementary school children's WTS behaviors. The observed associations between more favorable perceptions of safety and WTS provide further justification for practical intervention strategies to reduce WTS barriers that can potentially bring long-term physical activity and health benefits to school-aged children.
    Full-text · Article · Mar 2014 · International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
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