Key Safe Routes to School Research

Practitioners implementing Safe Routes to School programs, or other active travel promotion programs, have a large scope of issues to address.

This section is a collection of research that evaluates current Safe Routes to School programs and identifies issues to consider when implementing new programs. Findings from these studies can provide insight into the cost-effectiveness of programs, impact of school siting, and how gender and socio-demographic factors can influence active travel to school.

Also included in this section is academic literature reviewing legislative policies that can provide practitioners with information regarding potential funding opportunities and policy trends that influence active transport initiatives. Many of the articles in this section directly reference Safe Routes to School programs.

Research Highlights:

  • Safe Routes to School is one of the most effective evidence-based children’s health strategies in the chronic disease realm. Safe Routes to School is one of only fourteen approaches that the CDC has selected as an evidence-based strategy that has a positive health impact and is cost-effective within five years. (known as HI-5 interventions) (Community Preventative Services Task Force, 2018). 
  • Attending a school with a high level of support for active transportation increases the chances of walking to school by 55 percent and from school by 48 percent (Ross, et al., 2022).
  • A study of Safe Routes to School programs in Phoenix, Arizona found that norms play a powerful role in active transportation to school: Children are more likely to walk or bike to school if they perceive it to be normal and acceptable, and parents are more likely to let their children walk or bike to school if they feel that enough other parents allow it, too (Ross et al., 2017).
  • In a study of 18 states, Safe Routes to School programs were associated with a 14-16% decline in pedestrian and bicyclist injury risk and a 13% decline in pedestrian and bicyclist fatality rate (DiMaggio et al., 2016).
  • Safe Routes to School programs have shown a 37 percent increase in bicycling and walking where projects have been undertaken(Stewart, 2014).
  • A review of the success of the Safe Routes to School program in Marin County reports a 64% increase in the number of children walking to school, a 114% increase in the number of students biking, and a 91% increase in the number of students carpooling (Staunton, et al., 2003).
  • State-funded Safe Routes to School projects are increasing active school travel: In a study of four states (Florida, Mississippi, Washington, and Wisconsin) after the implementation of Safe Routes to School projects, walking to/from school increased from 9.8% to 14.2%, and bicycling to/from school increased from 2.5% to 3%. Active school travel increased overall from 12.9% to 17.6% (Stewart et al., 2014).
  • In New York City, areas with Safe Routes to School interventions found a 44% reduction in child pedestrian injury rates during school travel hours, while other areas had no change. Implementing Safe Routes to School programs in New York City cost $10 million, but the estimate reduction in health costs for injury, disability, and death was $221 million (Active Living Research, 2015).
  • Children attending schools that favor and support active commuting are most likely to engage in various types of physical activities and meet recommended daily levels of physical activity. This underscores the importance of Safe Routes to School as effective public health interventions to help children attain recommended physical activity levels (Ward et al., 2015).
  • Specific to Safe Routes to School, introducing a program focused on education and encouragement increased bicycling to school by 5 percent each year.  When programs also incorporated infrastructure improvements like sidewalks, crosswalks and covered bicycle parking, the rate of bicycling and walking improved to between 5 percent and 20 percent (McDonald, 2013).
  • Results show that children who pass completed Safe Routes to School projects are more likely to show increases in walking or bicycle travel than are children who do not pass by projects (15% vs. 4%), supporting the effectiveness of Safe Routes to School construction projects (Boarnet, et al., 2005).
  • The findings of an analysis of walking and biking to school among low-income and minority youth in the United States has significant implications, reporting that Safe Routes to School programs have the potential to strongly benefit minority and low-income students, especially because many of those students are more likely to live near the school they attend (McDonald, 2008).
  • The odds of walking and bicycling to school are 40% lower in girls than in boys (McMillan, et al., 2006). One study reports that the national Safe Routes to School program has the potential to positively influence individuals, communities, and the environment regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status by providing funds to address some of the barriers and improve the ability of students to safely walk and bicycle to school (Martin, et al., 2008).


Transport and child well-being: An integrative review

Key takeaway:

  • This review examines evidence that transport affects children’s wellbeing in five domains: physical, psychological, cognitive, social, and economic. Most benefits are associated with active and independent travel. 
Associations Between the Physical, Sociocultural, and Safety Environments and Active Transportation to School

A growing body of research shows that there are three primary domains that influence young people’s active transportation to school: the physical environment, the sociocultural environment, and the safety environment. 

Journal Article, Research
Bicycle Trains, Cycling, and Physical Activity: A Pilot Cluster RCT

Key takeaway:

  • Bicycle trains significantly increase children’s cycling to school and overall daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA).