Children’s Travel to School: The Influence of Built Form and Perceptions of Safety

 

 


Research Team:

Dr. Lawrence Frank, Principal Investigator with Jennifer Niece, MA, P.J. Naylor, PhD and Heather McKay, PhD.

This project examined the relationship between children’s mode of travel to school and demographics, micro-scale built form, and parental perceptions of safety at 7 elementary schools in the Lower Mainland region.


Background:
Children in developed nations are spending more time in cars and fewer are walking to school than 40 years ago. This trend has important implications for children’s physical activity and health, pollution and traffic congestion in the vicinity of schools, and children’s opportunities to practice independent decision-making.


Objective:
To examine the relationship between children’s mode of travel to school and factors of demographics, micro-scale built form, and perceptions of safety. To compare micro-scale built environment conditions with parental perceptions of safety.


Methods:
Gender, age, income, distance, household vehicle ownership, mode of travel to school, and perceptions of safety while walking to school were obtained from travel surveys distributed to grade 4 and 5 children and their parents at 7 elementary schools in the Lower Mainland of B.C. Built environment features were evaluated at the street-segment and intersection scale using a standardized survey. Each child was assigned a unique “pedestrian friendliness” score based on an estimated route between their home and school. A binary logistic regression model was developed to statistically examine relationships.


Conclusions: Home to school distance had the strongest influence on whether children would be active or not on the way to school. The index of micro-scale measures of the pedestrian environment examined in this study were highly influential for children living less than half a kilometre from school even after controlling for vehicle ownership and parental perceptions of safety. The pedestrian environment was not significant for the entire sample, although the influence of distance may mask this relationship. Household vehicle ownership and parental perceptions of safety from traffic and strangers were significant across the entire sample. Further research should include a broader diversity of street characteristics to more completely understand the influence of the micro-scale built environment. The factors influencing parental perception of safety, and the role of convenience in decision-making should also be studied in more detail.