As success stories from around the country demonstrate, Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs have the potential to produce positive outcomes, such as improved safety among school children who walk and bicycle to school, reduced vehicle emissions around school zones, and increased rates of walking and bicycling, among others.
Nonetheless, given that program evaluation was not a component of the legislation that created the federal SRTS program, a large-scale, national evaluation of the SRTS program outcomes has not been conducted. There are several barriers to conducting a national level evaluation of the program. These include: (a) the fact that a small percentage of schools across the country participate in SRTS (around five percent); (b) in most states, collection of data on student travel behavior and parents' perceptions of walking and bicycling to school is voluntary; therefore, many schools do not collect these data; (c) even if some schools collect data on student travel modes, the schools' primary emphasis might be on other outcomes, such as increasing the safety of those children who walk and bicycle to school. In cases like these, measuring rates of walking and bicycling may become misleading, as these schools might be less interested in walking/bicycling rates, and more interested in other outcomes. These are just some of the more fundamental reasons that conducted an evaluation of the federal program is not yet feasible. Several additional reasons exist.
That said, according to the 2009 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS), a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) effort to collect data on travel by the American public, 13 percent of children five to 14 years old usually walked or biked to school compared with 48 percent of students in 1969. However, though long-term trends demonstrate a decline in walking and bicycling to school, preliminary analysis of 2009 NHTS travel diary data reveals the percent of five through 14-year olds walking and bicycling to school in the U.S. has remained stable at about 12 percent over the last 15 years. This is hopeful news for Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs. Click here to access the complete press release on the NHTS report.