Evaluation of the safety benefits of legacy safe routes to school programs

Evaluation of the safety benefits of legacy safe routes to school programs

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    This study first examined the feasibility of conducting a crash-based assessment of the safety effects of legacy Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs. These were SRTS programs operating before the passage of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) that was signed into law on August 10, 2005. A design was developed for collecting detailed classification data on a sample of legacy SRTS programs in order to create a profile of their operations. This classification data also provided a basis for examining pedestrian and bicycle crash data for elementary school children (age 4 to 12) on the school trip. Detailed information including school calendars and bell times was collected on 130 legacy SRTS programs. The State Data System (SDS) crash files maintained by NHTSA were used to conduct three case studies of States containing the largest subsets of these 130 programs. The results for each State showed a significant trend in which the numbers of 4- to 12-year-old pedestrians and bicyclists involved in crashes during the school trip at the SRTS focus sites decreased over time. Similar trends were shown for the same age group and approximate school trip times at the State level in all three studied States. There was either no decrease or inconsistent patterns in the crash involvements of pedestrians and bicyclists of ages other than 4 to 12. The developed profiles of the legacy SRTS programs show heterogeneous motivations and goals as well as a wide range of program size and funding sources. Few programs included any systematic evaluation of outcomes other than changes in school trip mode. The crash results strongly suggest that, because of the significantly declining crash involvements, legacy SRTS programs could not have caused a pedestrian or bicycle safety problem due to increased exposure. Although this study was not capable of reaching a definitive conclusion with respect to SRTS safety effects, the findings are suggestive that legacy SRTS programs may have contributed to improved pedestrian and bicycle safety. A replication of the study approach focusing on SRTS programs generated by SAFETEA-LU would be needed to determine whether this study’s findings would remain valid for the SAFETEA-LU SRTS programs.
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