This study assessed the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program in five states: Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. A database of all SRTS projects announced for funding and all schools affected by these projects was developed. The database was analyzed to (1) quantify the SRTS programs’ impact in the five states and compare them to SRTS programs nationally, (2) assess the SRTS programs’ effectiveness in increasing rates of walking and bicycling to school, and (3) identify characteristics of SRTS projects associated with greater increases in walking and bicycling to school.
In the five states, 569 SRTS projects were announced for funding through April 2011. These projects reached more than 1,410 schools and 781,180 children—roughly 10 percent of the PK-8 grade public school population in the five states. Engineering components were featured in most projects, and sidewalks were the most common engineering activity.
Among completed SRTS projects with before and after travel data, rates of walking increased by 45 percent (from 9.8 percent to 14.2 percent), bicycling increased by 24 percent (from 2.5 percent to 3.0 percent), and all active travel to school (ATS) increased by 37 percent (from 12.9 percent to 17.6 percent). Increases in rates measured at the project level were statistically significant. Before and after travel data were only available for projects with an engineering component. Among these projects, those that affected fewer schools and students, as well as those with encouragement and education components tended to perform better. These relationships, however, were not statistically significant. The only statistically significant relationship found was a negative correlation between baseline rates of bicycling to school and increases in rates of bicycling to school, suggesting that SRTS projects may be more effective at encouraging bicycling to school where few children already do so.
The results of this study offer preliminary evidence that the SRTS program is achieving one of its primary goals of increasing rates of walking and bicycling to school and that SRTS funds are delivering a return on investment. It identified some trends of more successful projects, which warrant further investigation. As more projects end, the research framework established in this study can be used to further explore these findings and refine programs that help children safely walk or bicycle to school.