Chart of the Day: How Kids Get to School

Back in the ’60s, about half of all kids in the US biked or walked to school. Today, that number is something like 15%. Obviously, that’s a problem.

Still, though, that’s starting to change. Via Streetsblog, here’s a recent look at the mode share for young folk:

safe routes to school chart


Here’s what Tanya Snyder says in the Streetsblog piece:

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.

The difference between morning and afternoon makes sense. People are in a bigger rush in the morning and might be tempted to drive. Working parents might be available to drive in the morning but not in the afternoon. Plus, it’s colder in the mornings.

Meanwhile, cycling to school dropped from 2.6 percent of school kids in 2007-08 to 1.9 percent in 2009, then ticked up slightly each year to 2.2 percent in 2012. Since the first years of data collection had the smallest sample size, it’s hard to discern a meaningful shift.

I wonder how Minnesota compares?

4 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: How Kids Get to School

  1. Monte Castleman

    A few comments:

    What is the impact of deliberately assigning kids to a school on the other side of town, where obviously they can’t walk or bicycle. This started in the 1970s in order to alter the racial makeup of schools, but now we have charter and magnet schools, to say nothing of open enrollment?

    The demographics of the suburbs have changed a lot and don’t support the same density of schools anymore. In 1970 Bloomington had almost double the number of Elementary schools in a smaller built up area. So the average distance to school is a lot longer now.

    *Obviously more families have cars now, and there’s a lot more paranoia about your kids getting kidnapped off the streets (or your neighbors calling CPS if they see your kids on the street, like that 6 and 10 years old walking to the park together.) Or the controversy the parents that let their 9 year old ride the NY subway.

    And yes, there’s more cars available in the morning. From K-5 I went to a school a half mile away. We bicycled (on the sidewalks of course) until it got too cold, then walked. If it was particular cold a neighbor would give us a ride in the morning, but she worked so we always walked home.

    And more kids are probably involved in organized after school sports, which may not be walking distance from school.

  2. Serafina ScheelSerafina

    I think about 18 percent of Minneapolis Public Schools students are in the walk zone, but current actual bike/walk/bus/drive rates seem hard to come by. The MPS Safe Routes to Schools page has some older information and case studies about efforts to increase biking and walking linked at the bottom of the page:

    It looks like (no surprise) when schools install better bike racks and provide education and encouragement for biking to school, bike ridership goes up.

    I was intrigued to read that MPS has or had a bicycle fleet for bike education and would be really interested in learning more about that.

    Charter schools, which draw students from a much larger area, and the propensity of suburbs and small towns to build new and larger schools on the outskirts rather than in the central neighborhoods, also encourage driving.

    1. Rosa

      the bike education program is GREAT. One of the classes at my son’s school just finished doing it and got a lot of kids riding who hadn’t known how.

      At least here, the school schedule is really not conducive to biking to/from school. It is really dark in the morning for most of our 7am start times. I walked to elementary school quite a ways, and it was cold, but we had a 9-3 schedule instead of a 7:20-2 schedule, and that put us in daylight both ways for the entire school year.

      Driver behavior is the real safety factor, though. We don’t go to the closest school, but did pick a school near the Greenway; that means the protected-but-still hazardous crossings at 26th Street and 26th Avenue. If we went to the neighborhood school we’d be crossing Bloomington & 38th Streets. I have been in a crowd of middle school kids from MTS crossing at a striped crosswalk when a car nosed through a little gap in the walking crowd on 26th Ave. A friend whose kid does go to our neighborhood school, Bancroft, reports drivers regularly honking and trying to go through as crossing guards try to stop them so kids can cross 38th there.

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