Today, just 13 percent of children ages 5 to 14 walk and bicycle to and from school—a dramatic drop from 1969, when nearly 50 percent of children walked to school. Nearly 85 percent of children are either bused or driven by their parents, costing school districts and families billions in gasoline each year and eliminating a daily source of physical activity for children. In addition, the volume of vehicles crowded onto the streets around schools creates traffic congestion, air pollution and wear and tear on roads.
The dramatic decrease in walking or biking to school is just one factor making it increasingly harder for children to get the recommended daily amount of physical activity. Childhood obesity has increased among children ages 6 to 11 from 4 percent in 1969 to 19.6 percent in 2007. Nearly one in three young people in the United States—more than 23 million children and adolescents—are overweight or obese.
Further complicating the issue, many routes are unsafe for children to walk and bike to and from school. However, as school systems struggle to balance their budgets they are increasingly cutting school busing, impacting the children whose parents cannot afford to drive them to school.
Created in 2005 as part of the federal SAFETEA-LU transportation law, the Safe Routes to School program makes it safer for children to walk and bike to and from school. This report examines the many benefits and cost-savings Safe Routes to School programs offer. By getting more children walking and bicycling, Safe Routes to School initiatives can reduce traffic congestion around schools and increase children's physical activity levels, which is critical for reducing the health care costs associated with obesity.