New York City children walking to school were 44 percent less likely to be injured en route following the addition of new traffic and pedestrian signals, exclusive pedestrian crossing times, speed bumps, and other features over 10 years, a new study finds.
The city used the federal Safe Routes to School program to improve the safety of children's trips to school. Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Health who evaluated the program's effectiveness found that the annual rate of injury to school-age pedestrians from 2001 to 2010 dropped 44 percent during the peak times for walking to school.
The injury rate did not drop in parts of the city where the SRTS safety program was not in place, according to the study, published online this week in the journal Pediatrics.
(Getting to school on their own two feet or wheels might be especially important for New York City kids this week. On Monday, the city's school bus drivers announced they will strike, affecting the main transportation option for 150,000 students.)
The city's department of transportation chose to improve travel routes to more than 120 of the city's schools for improvements because they had the highest rates of pedestrian injury. Using a school-travel time window—7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in September through June—the researchers identified crashes that occurred during days and hours school-age children would be traveling to or from school. The analysis included reviewing crash data for 169,000 pedestrian injuries that took place among different age groups and within different neighborhoods.
"Our data show that interventions to make the built environment safer can greatly reduce injuries to children as they walk to school," said the lead author of the study, Charles DiMaggio, in a statement. DiMaggio is an associate professor of Epidemiology and research director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia.
The national Safe Routes to School program was funded by Congress in 2005 to create safe environments for American children to walk or bike to school. It's now in place in all 50 states, but the researchers noted that under the current federal transportation bill, the Safe Routes program will no longer have dedicated funding.
"Our study provides compelling empirical evidence that is essential to guiding policy makers," said Dr. Guohua Li, a senior author of the study and director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention. "It indicates that the Safe Routes to School program has made a marked difference in improving the safety of school-age children in New York City."
However one analysis of the federal program, which spent at least $820 million during its run, found that students aren't necessarily walking to school more, as a result of sidewalks and safety en route to school being improved.