Safe Routes to School: Student Commute Survey Tool

Hundreds of schools across Massachusetts have adopted programs to encourage students and their parents to choose walking and biking for their school commute. Of course, the ultimate potential of these Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs depends in large part on how many students live close enough to school and have safe walking or biking connections. Furthermore, any attempt to rigorously evaluate SRTS programs or compare their impact across schools or over time must account for the effect of student proximity, walkability, and many other factors affecting mode choice. Unfortunately, little data or analysis on this topic is available to decisions regarding programmatic and infrastructure investments. Existing survey tools were ill-suited to provide frequent and spatially-detailed performance metrics that can be used to assess the effectiveness of SRTS programs.

MAPC has been investigating this issue since 2010, through collaborations with WalkBoston, the Massachusetts Safe Routes to School Program (operated by MassRIDES), and local academic researchers.

Our 2012 report "Kids are Commuters Too!" applied a new method of spatial analysis to more than 800 schools in Eastern Massachusetts to inform and guide walk-to-school programs and investments. The analysis:

-defined “walksheds” of various distances based on mapped sidewalk infrastructure

-evaluated land use and demographics to assess walkability potential across districts

-developed a new six-question survey and an interactive online map tool for collecting responses

-surveyed more than 4,500 students in 23 schools to better understand existing travel patterns

-documented the new methods and tools so this analysis could be replicated across Metro Boston and the US

Now MAPC provides site hosting and continued development of the MySchoolCommute survey tool, which is made available to Massachusetts schools as www.MASafeRoutesSurvey.org. Using this site, MassRIDES staff and local school officials can conduct both online and paper surveys in nine languages; once results are in, the site provides one-click report generation with key statistics about student proximity, mode share, and GHG emissions. So far, over 25,000 surveys have been collected across Massachusetts, and MassRIDES is increasingly using the survey as its principal assessment and performance monitoring tool for participating districts. MAPC continues to host and maintain the site under contract with MassRIDES.

Recent analysis of the survey data with academic researchers in the region has also begun to uncover deeper relationships between walking conditions along the route and the likelihood of an active commute. This research also laid out the framework for statistically valid performance metrics that control for conditions such as student proximity, as a way of making valid comparisons across schools and over time.

MAPC Presentation, 2015 Transportation Research Board Moving Active Transportation to Higher Ground conference