New Analysis Tracks 40 Years of Changes in How Kids Get to School

routes.png(Chart: NCSRS/SRSNP)

The percentage of U.S. students between ages five and 14 who walk or bike to school has remained stable over the past 15 years but remains three-quarters below where it stood 40 years ago, according to a new analysis of government data by two groups working on the Safe Routes to School (SRtS) program.

Crunching numbers from the U.S. DOT’s National Household Travel Survey, the National Center for SRtS and the SRtS National Partnership concluded that between 1969 and 2009, school transportation habits essentially flipped — with auto use rising from 12 percent of the student population to 44 percent, and biking or walking going from a 48-percent popularity rate with kids to just 13 percent.

Despite the fact that the share of students choosing to walk or bike to school has remained around 12 percent since 1995, the SRtS groups saw a silver lining to their findings: Their efforts appear to be making headway when it comes to shorter trips from home to school. When the data was restricted to students traveling less than one mile to classes, 38 percent walked or biked last year.

“There
is a real opportunity to change the car culture and make school
campuses less congested if more of the parents who are driving shorter
distances let their children walk or bike to school, and those who
driving further distances let their children ride school buses,” Lauren
Marchetti, director of the National Center for SRtS, said in a
statement.

SRtS directs federal transportation dollars to help localities build dedicated infrastructure for kids up to age 14 to walk or bike to school. Members of Congress from both parties have endorsed legislation that would expand the program to high schools as part of the next six-year federal transport bill.

  • JK

    SRTS has a lot of work to do. Not only do we have to contend with a sprawled, pedestrian unfriendly built environment, the basic concept of schools has changed from neighborhood schools that everyone had to attend, to a “choice” based system of magnet schools and specialty schools. One of the consequences of No Child Left Behind is that federal policy is pushing competition between schools that often results in kids going to schools many miles away instead of to the school down the block. This “choice” model has major social and transportation implications. Now you have kids and families from all over the place attending schools, instead of the school being a cornerstone of neighborhood identify and community building.

  • EL

    Look at the SFUSD’s “ranked choice lottery” mess to figure out why parents have to drive their kids to school rather than walk (because your child can’t get into the decent school that’s in your neighborhood – all in the name of “diversity”).

    Also look at the expectations we have on our kids now compared to 1969 in terms of extracurricular activities. How many of you did a combination volunteering, tutoring, music, sports, etc. back in 1969 after school?

  • RP

    Seems we have the urban planners and developers to thank for the childhood obesity crisis.

    The vast majority of the time, neighborhoods and streets are neither bikeable or walkable….so even if children live under a mile from school, the dismal urban planning requires them to be driven to school.

  • charles w

    So, what exactly is included in “Other” category, jet packs?

  • sam240

    “Other” would include mass transit. For example, in NYC, many students use a regular bus or the subway to get to school. The MTA even adjusts its bus schedules to handle the beginning and end of the school day.

  • Other = Skateboard, Scooter, Rollerskates, etc. and possibly transit and/or taxis, etc.

  • Clutch J

    @ JK

    Yep, the percentage of kids living within one or two miles of where they attend school is undoubtedly dropping. This reduces the pool of kids who might possibly walk or bike to school.