Safe routes to school

| December 13, 2010

How can we influence the recent development where more and more children are driven to school, so the children instead get out of the car seats and up on their bicycles? Tools like school-route analyses and traffic policies can help make the task of securing the school routes more systematic and ensure that the resources are utilised in the best possible way.

By Ulrich Bach and Malene Kofod Nielsen, civil engineers, COWI a/s

Why secure the routes to school?
According to the Danish Road Traffic Act, it is the responsibility of the police and the road authorities, in consultation with the schools, to take the necessary steps in order to protect the children from traffic on their way to and from school.

Securing school routes is also common sense. A safe route to school means that more parents let their children walk and cycle to school. The children become more self-reliant, get exercise, and also learn how to get by in traffic. On the other hand, unsafe or dangerous school routes mean more children in the backseat of a car – with the negative consequences that follow.

Dialogue with schools
An ongoing dialogue between the police, road authority, and schools contrib-utes to ensuring that safe school routes are on the agenda of all parties. The dialogue prepares the ground for both small and large physical measures, including initiatives focusing on behavioural change. Cooperation concerning information plus campaigns directed at the children and their parents improves the safety on the routes to school and starts a positive spiral.

School-route analyses and traffic policies

Analysing their routes to school is an effective method of collecting knowledge of the children’s transport habits. The analyses can be executed on the Internet where the students answer questions about their transport habits. The students mark their routes to and from school on a map and indicate where they feel it is unsafe to be.

The entries are collected in a GIS database, giving the road authorities an accessible overview of where the students move about, as well as unsafe locations.

One can apply the results in several ways. For instance, knowledge of the students’ transport habits can help bring attention to the subject and draw up traffic policies for the individual schools. The traffic policy can include guidelines for the use of the bicycle during school hours, plus a strategy of how to get the students to walk or cycle to school. The analysis of the school routes offers the opportunity to set concrete goals for how many should cycle to school, compared with how many currently do. Analyses for 18 schools in the Municipality of Aalborg show that 39% cycle and 26% walk, while 27% are driven to school. The goal is that no more than 10% be driven, and the analysis helps set focus on the fact that although a lot of children already walk and cycle, more needs to be done in order to reach the target.

In addition, the students’ markings can be used to pinpoint routes that the authorities can then use to prioritise their resources for improving the school routes. They can also be used to work out concrete solutions for the improvement of traffic safety – or the perception of safety. Solutions could be traffic islands, cycle tracks or cycle lanes, upgraded visibility in intersections or at side roads, or marking of alternative drop zones.

The number of students on an individual route, including an evaluation of whether it is possible to transfer students from alternative routes, can form part of the basis for decision making when prioritising possible solutions.


School-route analyses and traffic policies help make the task of securing the school routes more systematic. The process itself also brings the subject to the school’s and parent’s attention. It can furthermore be used as a tool for both the authorities and the school for prioritising the necessary local efforts. The work thereby helps ensure that the resources are utilised in the best possible way and reverse the negative spiral where more and more children are driven to school. Experience shows that it works, and that it is possible to influence the trend in a positive direction, so children get out of the back seats and up on their bicycles.

On Ballingvej in Hem they made a traffic island to make it easier for students to cross the street.

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Category: Children, Newsletter 2, Safety

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