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Travel to School in California: Findings from the California - National Household Travel Survey
McGuckin, N. (2013). Travel to School in California: Findings from the California - National Household Travel Survey. Princeton, NJ: Active Living Research, a National Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
School-aged children merit special attention for safety planning, and recently have been the focus of public health initiatives to increase their physical activity. As a result, many officials and policy-makers are interested in information on children’s daily travel, and especially their travel to school. To provide that needed information the State of California purchased a supplemental sample to the 2009 National Household Travel Survey (called the CA-NHTS in this report) which contains data on the general travel of residents of California and allows detailed analysis of children’s travel to school. This report finds that:
- Overall walking was the second most common form of travel in California, and people in California walked more than comparable people in the nation as a whole.
- Children walked at higher rates than other age groups, but walking declined significantly at driving age—dropping more than 20 percent.
- Children in California walk to school at two and a half times the rate of children nationwide, and bicycle to school at twice the rate of school children nationwide. 26-31 percent of children in California walk or bicycle to and from school, compared to rates nationally of only 12-15 percent.
- While nearly a quarter of school-aged children in California walked to school and another two percent usually bicycle, more than half arrived in a private vehicle (car, van, or SUV) and about one out of seven usually traveled to school in a school bus. Over three out of five schoolchildren arrived to school between 7 and 8 am.
- Children aged 5-15 in California have increased walk trips per capita about 10 percent since the 2001 NHTS, although nationwide there was not an increase in reported per capita walk trips by children.
- Altogether two-thirds of the school-aged children in the state lived within two miles of their school and more than half of them arrived to school in a private vehicle. These children were more likely to be from higher income households where both parents work. Girls who lived within walking or bicycling distance were more likely than boys to be driven to school.
- Parents (of children who lived two miles or less from school but did not usually walk or bicycle) expressed concerns about the speed and amount of traffic along the route as the most serious issues in their decision not to allow their children to walk or bicycle to school.
- Walking to school plays a key component in children’s daily activity. Children in California who usually walked to school averaged two and one-half times as many daily walks for all reasons compared to children who usually arrived at school in a private vehicle.
Policy-makers, planners, and community groups in California want to increase the number of children that walk and bicycle to school for a number of important reasons. Walking or bicycling to school:
- Provides healthy daily activity that children might otherwise not engage in: daily activity has been shown to improve academic performance,
- Lessens the congestion around schools during morning and afternoon drop-off/pick-ups,
- Provides an opportunity for children to learn to travel safely in their community,
- Reduces fuel use and harmful emissions caused by vehicles around schools, and
- Increases the sense of community and livability in a neighborhood.
To effectively craft policies that provide measurable results, decision makers need detailed information about children’s travel to school and the barriers and concerns parents express in allowing their children to walk or bicycle to school. This report presents analysis of the CA-NHTS to shed light on these topics.