The long-term decline of walking and biking to school has been linked to the childhood obesity epidemic, a big share of morning rush hour traffic, and even kids’ lack of attention in class. In 1969, 41 percent of children in grades K–8 lived within one mile of school, and of those kids, 89 percent usually walked or biked. By 2009, 31 percent lived within a mile of school — and only 35 percent of them walked or biked.
It’s too soon to say that downward spiral is over. But there are hopeful signs.
A new report released by the National Center for Safe Routes to School shows that more kids are walking. However, biking seems to be staying flat, and busing is down.
First, a disclaimer: The study is based on somewhat uneven data. The 2005 national transportation bill, which created the federal Safe Routes to School program and started disbursing money to states, also mandated the implementation of a data collection system. Compliance has been rising dramatically — 382 schools submitted information in 2007, while 8,119 did this year. So current data is more robust than past years, and you should take the year-over-year trend results with a grain of salt.
In addition, rural and low-income students are under-represented in the surveys, as are kids living far from school. In total, more than 525,000 parent surveys from 4,691 schools supplied information for the study.
That said, the National Center found that walking to and from school increased among respondents between 2007 and 2012. While 12.4 percent walked to school in the morning in 2007, 15.7 percent did in 2012. In the afternoon, 15.8 percent walked home in 2007, versus 19.7 percent last year.