Neighborhood Perceptions and Active School Commuting in Low-Income Cities

Children walking to school with the help of a crossing guard.

Improving neighborhood environments to make them more pleasant are likely to increase active travel to and from school.

The Issue:

A recent study of four low-income, racially and ethnically diverse and densely populated cities in New Jersey found that perceptions of the neighborhood as being unpleasant for activity were significant predictors of active travel to and from school (ATS).

Key Findings

  • Viewing the neighborhood as unpleasant for activity, i.e., presence of graffiti, abandoned buildings, and improper lighting, was significantly associated with lower rates of ATS.

  • Living in close proximity to school was associated with ATS—for every 10th of a mile increase in distance, there was a 6 percent reduction in ATS.


It is important to identify new strategies to increase the likelihood of children’s physical activity each day. The ability to walk to school is among them. This study shows that improving neighborhood built environments may be an effective strategy.

About the Study:

Data collection took place from 2009 through 2010 and utilized telephone surveys. The statistical analyses were run for 901 children ages 3 to 18. Neighborhood perceptions on: (1) traffic and crime, (2) unpleasantness for walking or cycling, (3) condition of the sidewalks; (4) social cohesion; (5) distance to school; and (6) demographics were included in the explanatory variables.