SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION, HEALTH, AND EQUITY: THE ROLE OF BUILT ENVIRONMENTS
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2009 by Nova Science Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. This chapter discusses health and equity issues related to school transportation, focusing on the impact of built environments on physically active commuting to school. The first section reviews existing evidence from multiple disciplines related to health, physical activity, school transportation, and built environments. The second section presents a case study on the prevalence and correlates of walking-to-school behaviors in eight low-income elementary schools in Austin, Texas with high percentage of Hispanic and obese students. The literature review and case study identified several key factors associated with active commuting to school. Factors related to school siting, including travel distance and the neighborhood context, and safety issues, such as traffic crash rates, crime rates, and parents' safety concerns, appeared strong as correlates of walking to school. Environmental barriers were also important, including both the objectively measured and perceived presence of high-volume and high-speed roadways, unsafe street crossings, railroads, and steep slope. Supporitve environmental conditions included continuous sidewalks, safe street crossings, street lighting, and grid-like street patterns. In general, infrastructure quality was more important than the land use characteristics. Further, more children from low-income and minority families walked to school, but they were more likely to walk in unsafe, polluted, and deprived environments. This chapter suggests the need for careful attention to the specific cultural, economic, and geographic contexts of the study sites and the populations when studying or promoting walking-to-school behaviors, due to the likely differences in their roles. It offers some insights into the relationships between school transportation and built environments but also points to the many remaining questions for future research. Among them are the correlation-versus-causality issues and the objective-versus-perceived measures, especially concerning safety and other barriers to walking. More attention is needed to the health-significant roles of active commuting to school, as a way to establish lifelong habits of active living and as an affordable and environmentally clean mode of transportation. Specific considerations are needed for those children who have no means of getting to and from school other than walking as they may be exposed to disproportionately high burdens and risks when they walk.
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