Perceived safety influencing active travel to school – A built environment perspective

Key takeaways:

  • This systematic review examined 65 studies to understand factors that impact active school travel. Active travel to school is the language used in this international study, and is the same as active transportation to school, namely walking and bicycling.
  • The primary factors that emerged as impacting active transportation to school were perceptions of traffic safety and perceptions of neighborhood safety. The focus was on parents and caregivers as the decision-makers regarding the mode of travel to school.
  • Perceptions of traffic safety varied based on road type, traffic volume, traffic speed, and intersection density. However, in all cases, the presence of a footpath improved perceptions of safety. Separation from traffic, with trees as a buffer, further increased the likelihood of walking and bicycling.
  • Perceptions of neighborhood safety focused on aesthetics and maintenance. Run-down, littered neighborhoods with poor lighting are perceived as inviting crime (whether or not this is the reality). Whereas well-maintained, walkable neighborhoods were perceived as safe. Relatedly, more buildings with windows facing the street contributed to improved perceptions of safety due to the idea that more eyes are on the street.
  • Distance between home and school was also a factor. Like other studies, this research shows that shorter distances encourage increased walking and bicycling.


  • Improving sidewalks and footpaths, and planting more street trees can encourage more walking and biking to/from school. Neighborhood beautification efforts also make a difference and can contribute to an increased perception of neighborhood safety.
  • The closer the students live to the school, the more likely they are to walk or ride. For this reason, Safe Routes to School practitioners could start by focusing on the one-mile from the school radius as an area of opportunity with their programs and projects.

Wangzom, D., White, M., and Paay, J. “Perceived safety influencing active travel to school – A built environment perspective.” Environmental Research and Public Health 20, (2023).

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