Many parents would like their children to travel to school independently, but they think it’s unsafe to do so. Taking a universal design approach, if we improve pedestrian infrastructure for children, we also make it better for everyone. Safe children means safe adults.
Children are more likely to live closer to school than their parents will live to their workplaces. But do they feel safe to walk? However, walking or riding to school is at the same time workers are driving off to their workplaces – often in a hurry.
Prue Oswin’s survey of parents on the Sunshine Coast revealed their perceived and real barriers to safe walking for their children. Crossing roads without designated crossings was of the most concern. Crossing at roundabouts and roads without a pedestrian refuge island was also concerning. Zebra crossings were the most favoured by parents especially if they were raised. These are the same issues for people with disability and older people.
Pedestrian hot spots tell one story, pedestrian absence tells another. This is where statistical data do not measure journeys not made. Consequently, relying on such data is misleading in the quest to get more people walking and wheeling in their neighbourhoods.
The Safe System approach is about preventing traffic crashes resulting in serious injury. The basic premise is that if a driver or pedestrian makes a mistake, a serious accident is less likely. Oswin’s study shows that there are gaps in this approach that traffic engineers need to address.
The most obvious spin-off from more walking are the health benefits which lead to better concentration and wellbeing. Also if children get walk to and from school independently, parents, usually women, are able to increase their workforce participation. Other beneficiaries are people with mobility impairments, and people who are blind or have low vision. Parents themselves might also be encouraged to walk more.
Designing for people at either end of the age bell curve means that everyone else is included. Consequently, the often forgotten group, children, are key piece of the inclusion jigsaw.
The title of Oswin’s conference paper is, Activating transport to schools with a Safe System, renewable energy and community engagement. There is also a slide deck with lots of photos, graphics and data that underpin the paper and the research.
An academic research paper supports these findings. The paper is titled, Children’s and parents’ perceptions on safe routes to schools: a mixed-methods study investigating factors influencing active school travel.
The proportion of children walking or riding to school is dwindling in Australia, while pedestrian injuries are among children’s leading causes of death. A mixed-methods survey was conducted on children and parents of two schools in Australia to understand travel behaviours and attitudes towards active transport to school (ATS).
Results showed that road safety perceptions predicted ATS, unlike distance to school and stranger danger. The design of the routes to school was found to be crucial in facilitating ATS, to address the fear of road danger. Practical implications include the need for more controlled pedestrian crossings and protected bike paths.