Study Reveals More Children Are Walking to School

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Photo by International Walk to School
A group of students makes its way to Eisenhower Elementary in Camp Hill, Penn., on National Walk to School Day, 2012.

New research from the National Center for Safe Routes to School shows that increasing numbers of K-8 students are walking to school.

According to parent survey data collected from 2007 to 2012, the percentage of K-8 children walking to school in the morning increased from 12.4 percent to 15.7 percent (representing a 27 percent increase). Similarly, the percentage of K-8 children who walked home from school in the afternoon increased from 15.8 percent to 19.7 percent (representing a 24 percent increase).

“We have heard anecdotally that more families are choosing active transportation for everyday trips, and this first-ever large dataset provides evidence that this is indeed the case for walking to school,” said Lauren Marchetti, director of the National Center for Safe Routes to School. “This encouraging news illustrates the importance of continuing to invest in building safer infrastructure, promoting safety awareness and continuing programs like Safe Routes to School.”

Another significant finding of this research was that the percentage of parents who reported that their child’s school supporting walking and biking to school rose from 24.9 percent to 33 percent.

“School support for walking and biking is an important element in parents’ decisions to allow or to encourage their children to make this transportation choice,” Marchetti continued. “And, as nearly 15,000 schools have benefited from Safe Routes to School funding across the country, this is an exciting finding.”

The full report, Trends in Walking and Bicycling to School from 2007 to 2012, analyzed parent survey data collected by nearly 4,700 schools located in all states and D.C. from 2007 through 2012. The surveys represent more than 525,000 K-8 school children across the country.

Additional findings:

  • Although walking increased among students who attended low-, medium- and high-income schools, walking to school increased especially among students who attended low-income schools where at least 75 percent of students were eligible to receive free or reduced price meals.
  • Although schools located in suburbs, towns, and rural areas showed higher rates of walking over time, walking to school increased especially in cities.
  • There was a small but statistically significant decrease in biking to school between 2007 and 2012, from 2.6 percent to 2.2 percent in both the morning and afternoon.
  • Using the bus decreased significantly between 2007 and 2012. Within one mile of school, the largest shift between travel modes occurred between busing and walking, with busing decreasing significantly and walking to school increasing significantly.

Marchetti added, “While the study does document a small decrease in biking to school, there are reasons to believe that bicycling is gaining traction among children and families. The first National Bike to School Day was held in 2012 and the number of events grew 80 percent in 2013. As the support for biking to school continues to grow, we think we’ll see the numbers go up.  And we do plan to examine the numbers again in 2014.”