What are the potential environmental impacts of Safe Routes to School programs?

Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs can help reduce auto emissions by encouraging non-motorized forms of transportation such as walking and bicycling to school. A recent report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency used data from schools in Florida to compare travel choices and air quality implications. School location and the quality of the built environment between home and school affect how children get to school. The study concluded that schools located closer to students' homes in walkable neighborhoods would reduce traffic, produce a 13 percent increase in walking and bicycling and a reduction of at least 15 percent in motor vehicle emissions.(1) This is particularly important when the following are considered:

  • Air pollutants from motor vehicle emissions and other sources can be especially harmful to children because their respiratory systems are still developing.
  • Air pollution also can exacerbate chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma. (10)
  • Over the last 25 years, asthma rates in the United States among children ages 5 to 14 has increased 74 percent, and 160 percent increase among children up to age 4.(3)
  • In addition, 14 million days of school are missed every year due to asthma.(4)

1) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Travel and Environmental Implications of School Siting, Report No. 231-R-03-004, October 2003. Available: http://www.smartgrowth.umd.edu/pdf/SchoolLocationReport.pdf. Accessed: January 17, 2006.

2) Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. Air quality and the environment. Accessed 9/16/05 at www.walktoschool.org/why/environment.cfm.

3) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Surveillance for Asthma -- United States, 1960-1995: CDC Surveillance Summaries, April 24, 1998. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Vol. 47 (SS-1), 1998, pp. 1-27.

4) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy Youth! Health Topics: Asthma. Accessed 9/16/05 at http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/asthma/index.htm.