Do Safe Routes to School programs decrease injuries in school-aged pedestrians?

By Chris Spahr

A study published January 13 in PEDIATRICS, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, provided important evidence to support the effectiveness of Safe Routes to School programs. The research, conducted by Charles DiMaggio, PhD, MPH, and Guohua Li, MD, DrPH, of Columbia University, assessed whether the implementation of an SRTS program in New York City was associated with a decrease in school-aged pedestrian injury.

The number of children walking to school has declined drastically from nearly 50 percent of children walking or biking to school in 1969 to only 13 percent in 2012.   Numerous factors contribute to this decline, including concerns about safety due to missing sidewalks and heavy traffic.  SRTS programs have existed in other countries since the 1970s and in some local communities in the U.S. since 1997; however, federal legislation that funded a national SRTS program did not exist until 2005. The program is intended to “improve safety on walking and bicycling routes to school and to encourage children and families to travel between home and school using these modes.”

While studies have looked at behaviors and attitudes toward journey to school transportation, few have examined whether SRTS programs are effective in reducing pedestrian injury. The DiMaggio and Li study, entitled “Effectiveness of a Safe Routes to School Program in Preventing School-Aged Pedestrian Injury,” analyzed motor vehicle crash data for 168,806 pedestrian injuries in New York City between 2001 and 2010. Using this data, they calculated annual pedestrian injury rates per 10,000 people for different age groups and for census tracts with and without SRTS interventions during school-travel hours. The most striking results of the study demonstrated that the annual rate of school-aged pedestrian injury during school-travel hours decreased 44 percent from 8.0 injuries per 10,000 people in the pre-intervention period (2001-2008) to 4.4 injuries per 10,000 people in the post-intervention period (2009-2010) in census tracts with SRTS interventions. This rate remained virtually unchanged in census tracts without SRTS interventions. 

School-aged pedestrian crashes per 10,000 population during school travel (to and from) hours: SRTS intervention census tracts (yes) versus nonintervention census tracts (no), New York City, 2001-2010. Source: PEDIATRICS

Critics of the national SRTS program claim that they are duplicative of local bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure investments.  However, research showing the effectiveness of the program should encourage more investments to bicycle and pedestrian programs that not only promote public health and mobility, but reduce pedestrian injuries.

Chris Spahr is a Graduate Assistant with SSTI.