It's not necessarily because they're spoiled, lazy or over scheduled. According to a University of Michigan researcher, concerns about safety are the main reason that less than 13 percent of U.S. children walked or biked to school in 2004, compared to more than 50 percent who did so in 1969.
"These concerns are strongly linked to the kind of physical environment children navigate between home and school," said Byoung-Suk Kweon, an environmental and landscape architecture researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR).
"The greener the route, the more likely it is that children will walk and bike."
Using Geographic Information System (GIS) data combined with a survey of 186 parents of 5th through 8th grade students, Kweon found that parents were most concerned about the speed and volume of traffic students would encounter en route to school; the possibility of crime; and the weather.
"In Texas, where we lived when I conducted this study, our sons did not walk to school because we lived too far away," said Kweon, who is also affiliated with the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment. In general, she found, children who walk to school usually live less than three-quarters of a mile away.
"In Ann Arbor, they do walk to school. We have a 27 degree rule. If it's colder than that, we drive them; if it's warmer than that, they walk."
In her study, Kweon found that children use sidewalks, not bike lanes, when they ride to school. "Parents may be concerned about the safety of bike lanes, and they may be telling their children to ride on the sidewalk because it's safer," she said. "We may need to re-think how to place bike lanes in school walk zones."
To learn more about how the physical environment influences parents' perceptions of safety and their willingness to allow their children walk or bike to school, Kweon and colleagues conducted a series of laboratory-based simulation studies, testing six different pedestrian environments.
"It's very important for parents that there be a separation or buffer between traffic and the sidewalk," she said. "They are much more willing to let their children walk when this buffer is at least eight feet wide, and when there are also trees in this area." Trees not only provide shade, but also serve as a sort of vertical barrier between sidewalk and street.
Although improving the physical environment reduces parents' concerns for their children's safety, Kweon found that the social environment—especially the likelihood of crime—strongly affects parental perceptions of safety as well. Kweon hopes to conduct a related study in Detroit to examine how the intersection of social and physical factors influences the likelihood that children will walk to school.
By identifying environmental elements conducive to walking and biking to school, Kweon hopes her research may help improve children's physical health and reduce the incidence of childhood obesity, especially prevalent among minority children.
"Walking or biking to school helps children develop an early habit of engaging in physical activity, and that can lead to a healthier and more active and healthier population," she said.
Kweon's study was supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and from the Southwest Region University Transportation Center in College Station, Texas.
Established in 1948, the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world's oldest academic survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, the American National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world's largest computerized social science data archive. Visit the ISR web site at www.isr.umich.edu for more information.
Diane Swanbrow | EurekAlert!
New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
Disarray in the brain
18.12.2017 | Universität zu Lübeck
On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.
We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.
Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
19.01.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.01.2018 | Health and Medicine
19.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy