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Why Kids Don’t Walk To School

For today’s kids, walking or biking to school has become the exception rather than the rule.

A study by Anna Price and colleagues, published in the Journal of School Health, now explores the perceptions of school administrators in South Carolina regarding the factors that influence childrens’ active travel to school.

According to their survey of 314 school and district leaders of elementary and middle schools, the two most commonly raised issues were concerns about the safety of crossing streets (54%) and the availability of sidewalks (54%).

Additional factors included distance to school (46%), traffic volume (42%), parental attitudes (27%), traffic speed (27%), neighborhood condition (24%), and student attitudes (10%).

Some respondents also expressed concerns about liability issues related to students’ active travel to school.

Overall, the survey left no doubt about the considerable concerns of schools administrators about the safety of students while walking to school.

Based on these findings, the researchers suggest that active travel to school may be increased by addressing the (perceived?) safety of street crossing and the number of sidewalks, and by educating school and district leaders about liability and safety issues related to students walking to school.

If my readers can think of other barriers or novel ideas how to address them, I’d certainly love to hear them.

Edmonton, Alberta

Price AE, Pluto DM, Ogoussan O, & Banda JA (2011). School Administrators’ Perceptions of Factors That Influence Children’s Active Travel to School. The Journal of school health, 81 (12), 741-748 PMID: 22070505


  1. I just read the above blog. I just completed a two year secondment with the Halton District School Board implementing the Active and Safe Routes to School program into 28 schools. There are many reasons for children not walking, and the research above hits them all. At the end of the day, it is the parent who makes the decision. This is the great thing about ASRTS, it sets up supportive environments for parents to allow their children to walk. Go to or and click on the Active and Safe Routes to School tag to see the projects

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  2. Safety is definitely and issue. one idea I’ve read abouto overcome this barrier is the walking school bus. For very young children, parents rotate accompanying the “bus” to school, picking up neighbourhood kids along the way. Admittedly, this takes a bit of organizing and a strong community network.

    Another barrier is consolidation and closing of neighbourhood schools – somewhat due to dropping enrolment but also the costs of maintaining aging buildings. Closing schools and putting kdis on buses seems totally backward to me but boards face tough decisions due to budget constraints.

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  3. Although I agree there is a decline in the number of students walking and biking to school – Canadian data indicates that it is the parents choice. SHAPE (Safe Healthy Active People Everywhere) is the non-profit organization that promotes walking and biking to school in Alberta. During our work with School Travel Planning with Albertan Schools based on 2010 surveys:

    • Just over half (51.5%) of students live within 1.5km of the school; 27.0% live between 1.5 and 3km from school, while 21.5% live farther than 3km.
    • Approximately 2/3 of parents (64.7%) agree that there are no major barriers to walking in their neighbourhood and 59.3% feel their neighbourhood is safe for children to walk to school.
    • However, the most cited barriers to active school travel are: crosswalk issues (25.7%), traffic (25.5%) and unsafe drivers (24.3%).

    At the same time we found that
    • For parents who drive their children to school, it is most commonly stated that their children would be allowed to walk/cycle to school if they were older, if they did not live so far from school, and if they did not travel alone.
    • Approximately 30% of parents felt that safer/ improved routes and reduced traffic dangers would favourably influence their decision to let their children walk/cycle to school.
    • Additional considerations for parents to allow their child to cycle to school are bicycle riding training programs for children, as well as a safe place at school to lock their bike. Distance was reported less often by parents as a barrier to cycling than for walking.
    • A vast majority of parents (92.4%) are supportive of ongoing School Travel Planning efforts.
    As you can see it is a very complex issue but it revolves around parental choice in most cases and we work with schools to support this work with Walking Buddies, Walking School Buses, Walk to School days and much more. School Travel Planning brings the data, school admin, parents and municipal stakeholders to develop Action plans for Schools to implement change! Together we can make a difference.

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  4. Having a cab driver yell, “It’s dangerous and stupid to ride with a kid on your bike!” as I was heading to school with my son this morning is the kind of thing that could be taken as off-putting. Like I’m going to take road safety advice from a cabbie! Nonetheless drivers, that one for example, are a big part of the problem.

    Dramatically increased penalties for drivers who hit a bicycle or pedestrian, “this is a safe route to school” signage, and those “this is your speed” electronic displays would probably help. As would dedicated bike lanes, nose-outs at pedestrian crossings, etc. I don’t think these ideas are new so much as obscure.

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  5. Thanks for your post!! Just like our colleagues in similar organizations from across Canada and around the world, at Active and Safe Routes to School in Nova Scotia we work to increase the number of children and families that choose to walk and bike to school. We see similar barriers and concerns as mentioned in your article and in following posts.

    It is about inspiring a culture shift, and that is not always easy! But by connecting and working together I believe we can start to make that shift!! Facts and fun I think are key ingredients. Parent and student involvement is key too! Check out one of our recent events at St. Stephen’s Elementary in Halifax:

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