For several years now, the topics of children’s appropriation of public spaces and children’s mobility behaviour have been increasingly investigated in planning and transportation sciences and in the fields of developmental psychology and education (e.g., Haefeli & Kaufmann-Hayoz, 2009). The goal of the present research study was to contribute towards improved consideration of children’s interests in traffic planning practice.
The project will contribute to a better understanding of children’s needs in traffic planning. The focus of the project is on safety for children at the age of 6-14. The objectives are:
- To provide an overview of existing literature on “safe routes to school”
- To work out an analysis of existing surveys of traffic and children (microcensus)
- To provide a representative survey of travel behaviour for routes to school
- To process existing video-sequences of children and their routes to school
Tree case studies of roads to school situations at different schools.
The research study entailed six steps. The following sections describe the steps and the methods used:
Literature review and evaluation of existing surveys
In step 1, we looked at scientific publications of the last 10 years as well as reports and documents from the authorities and organizations on the topic of children and traffic. In step 2, we analysed data from the statistical survey of the Swiss population’s travel behaviour, based on the report Mobilität Schweiz: Ergebnisse des Mikrozensus 2005 zum Verkehrsverhalten [Mobility in Switzerland: Results of the 2005 Microcensus Travel Behavior] and from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office and the Federal Roads Office (BFS, 2007).
Representative survey of parents with children of primary school age
In step 3, in April 2009 we surveyed by telephone 807 randomly selected fathers and mothers with at least one child age 6-12 on the topic of children’s travel behaviour on the way to school.
Traffic analyses and video recordings
In step 4, we analysed, from the traffic perspective, already available video recordings, and, for three primary schools as case studies, new video recordings of the areas surrounding primary schools. Further, working together with the school heads we identified dangerous spots on the routes to school and video recorded the course of traffic for several hours at selected sites. In addition, we asked children to mark on an aerial photograph the most dangerous spots on their personal routes to school.
Case studies: Three primary schools in German-speaking Switzerland
In step 5, we chose as examples three public primary schools (grades 1 to 6) in German-speaking Switzerland that are typical for urban (Bern), periurban (Rothenburg LU), and rural (Laupersdorf SO) settlement areas and are representative with regard to various features, and we collected data on routes to school, children’s travel behaviour, and physical activity. The survey was conducted in April and May of 2009. First, we conducted guided interviews with the heads of the three schools on the safety of the children’s routes to school. Second, various data were collected on the children: The children filled out a 5-day record of their travel behaviour and physical activity (N=575), marked on an aerial photograph (A3 size) dangerous spots on their routes to school (N=161), and drew sketch maps of their routes to school showing special landmarks (
There are main results of the project:
1) Representative survey of parents with children of primary school age
Traveling the routes to school
When asked how they usually got to school, 78.5% of the children named a human-powered means of transportation: 60.8% went to school on foot, 11.6% by bicycle, and 6.1% by nonmotorized small-wheeled transport (roller skates, skateboards, push scooters). Bicycling to school was named significantly more frequently in German-speaking Switzerland than in the French and Italian-speaking regions of Switzerland and also more frequently in the rural area than in the urban and periurban areas. By car was the answer in 7.6% of the responses; traveling to school by car was named six times more frequently in Canton Ticino (Italian-speaking region of Switzerland) than in German-speaking Switzerland. In Switzerland as a whole, 17.3% of children were driven to school by their parents several times a week (“parent taxi”). In Canton Ticino, this proportion was four times higher than in German-speaking Switzerland. Parents that drove their children to school more than once a month most frequently named practical considerations as their reason for doing so (43.4%); only 8% named safety concerns.
Connections with travel behaviour
Parents that drove their children to school several times a week more frequently own two or more cars than the other parents. They rated their children’s routes to school as dangerous from a traffic standpoint more frequently. In addition, they were more rarely of the opinion that making their way to school on their own is important for their children’s development. They more frequently stated that the car is the family’s most important means of transportation and were more frequently of the opinion that their children are the safest in the car. They were also more frequently afraid when their children made their way to school by themselves.
Parents’ suggestions for improving children’s safety on the way to school
Most frequently, with 42.1% mentions, parents suggested infrastructural improvements (for example, more 30 km/h speed limit zones, more and safer pedestrian crossings). In second place, with 21% mentions, parents suggested police measures (such as posting school crossing guards or policemen at dangerous spots). This was followed by 12.1% mentions of measures that the school could take, mainly road safety education. Parent-oriented measures