Safety Issues Keep Children From Walking, Biking to School Study Finds

16 04 2008

A study released by the University of Michigan suggests that less than 13 percent of U.S. children walked or biked to school in 2004, compared to more than 50 percent in 1969, largely because of safety concerns, United Press International reports. Supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Southwest Region University Transportation Center in College Station, Texas, researchers combined Geographic Information System data with a survey of 186 parents of children in grades five through eight. When deciding if children should walk or bike to school, the researchers found that parents were most concerned with the speed and volume of traffic on routes to school, the potential for crime and weather issues. To further explore the influence of these factors on parents’ perceptions of safety, researchers conducted lab-based simulation studies focusing on six different pedestrian environments. They found that parents favor a “separation or buffer between traffic and the sidewalk” and are most likely to allow children to walk to school when the buffer is at least eight feet wide and if the buffer area is lined with trees. In light of the findings, the researchers suggest that planners “rethink how to place bike lanes in school walk zones.” Based in part on these findings, the researchers plan to conduct a similar study in Detroit to examine how the confluence of social and physical environments influences the likelihood that children will walk or bike to school (UPI, 3/27/08; University of Michigan release, 3/28/08).

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