Travel and Environmental Implications of School Location

A report published by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that school location has a major influence on how children travel to school – whether walking, cycling or driving. In turn, these travel choices affect traffic congestion, air pollution, and school transport budgets.

Recent trends in travel to school in the United States have raised concerns at federal, state, and local levels. In 2001, less than 15 percent of students between the ages of five and 15 walked to or from school, and 1 percent cycled. In 1969, 48 percent of students walked or cycled to school.

In response to these trends, governments at every level have launched a variety of policy initiatives. These include state and local “Safe Routes to School Programs,” and a federal KidsWalk-to-School Campaign. In addition, a variety of initiatives are helping schools stay or locate at the centre of communities.

The EPA study examined the implications of school location for travel and the environment. It found that:

  • School proximity to student homes matters. Students with shorter walk and bike times to school are more likely to walk or cycle.
  • The built environment influences travel choices. Students traveling through pedestrian-friendly environments are more likely to walk or cycle.
  • Because of travel behavior differences, school location has an impact on air emissions. Well-located schools that can be reached by walking and bicycling result in reduced air emissions from driving.
  • More data collection and research are needed to add further to the understanding of these effects.

The results suggest that actions to improve students’ walking environments, and to support communities that wish to locate schools in neighborhoods, will result in increases in student walking and cycling to school. Increased walking and cycling can reduce emissions related to auto travel and improve environmental quality.

The study is available at the website of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Trevor Cobbold

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