National Complete Streets Coalition


Outside Philadelphia, two students who attend Uwchlan Hills Elementary School ride the bus only 90 yards to cross a busy street. In Auburn, Maine, students living just down the street from their brand new elementary school are also taking the bus. These schools are missing the necessary sidewalks and crosswalks that allow kids to walk to school safely – their streets are incomplete.

Incomplete streets: a barrier for children.

When streets are designed only for cars, they become barriers for children, who cannot safely walk or bicycle along or across them. Unfortunately these safety fears are well founded – pedestrian injury is a leading cause of unintentional, injury-related death among children, age 5 to 14.

As a result, many children end up in the back seat of the car, missing out on opportunities for independence and physical activity. One recent survey found that, while 71% of adults walked or rode their bicycles to school as a child, a mere 17% of their own children currently do so. While ‘stranger danger’ is often cited as a primary factor, a CDC survey found that traffic-related danger is a more common reason children did not walk to school. Limited physical activity is a factor in the obesity epidemic among children. The number of overweight or obese American children nearly tripled between 1980 and 2004.

The lack of Complete Streets is perhaps best illustrated by hazard busing for schoolchildren. In Illinois, 15% of students who ride the bus to school do so because it is considered too dangerous to walk from home, less than 1.5 miles away.

Complete Streets give children safety, mobility

Complete streets provide children with opportunities to walk, bike and play in a safe environment. More children are likely to walk or bike to school when sidewalks or footpaths are present, when there are safe street crossings, and when school zones enforce a reduced vehicle speed. Streets that provide dedicated space for bicycling and walking help kids get physical activity and gain independence.

Safe Routes to School programs, which have become tremendously popular across the country, will benefit from Complete Streets policies that help turn all routes into safe routes. The California program, initiated through legislation in 2000, was an immediate success, with more kids walking to school, reduced traffic speeds near schools, and more drivers yielding to pedestrians.

While federal funding is now available in all fifty states for Safe Routes to School programs, all of the program’s funds will be able to provide limited help to just six percent of the schools in the United States. Complete streets policies can augment these programs to help all communities create safe routes as a routine part of roadway improvement, design and construction.

A community with a Complete Streets policy considers the needs of children every time a transportation investment decision is made. Roads near schools and in residential neighborhoods are designed and altered to allow children, the most vulnerable users of our streets, to travel safely.


[all fact sheet citations are available in the downloadable files]

Additional Resources:

National Center for Safe Routes to School

Safe Routes to School National Partnership

Physical Activity Access for Minority and Low-Income Communities
Active Living Research, November 2011

NAACP Childhood Obesity Advocacy Manual
NAACP, September 2011

Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation
White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President, 2010

The Association Between Community Physical Activity Settings and Youth Physical Activity, Obesity, and Body Mass Index
Journal of Adolescent Health, 2010

Implementing Safe Routes to School in Low-Income Schools and Communities (pdf)
Safe Routes to School National Partnership, 2010

Getting Students Active Through Safe Routes to School (pdf)
Safe Routes to School National Partnership, 2010

Personal Security and Safe Routes to School
National Center for Safe Routes to School, 2010

Safe Routes to School: Putting Traffic Safety First – How Safe Routes to School Initiatives Protect Children Walking and Bicycling
Safe Routes to School National Partnership, 2009

Active Design Guidelines
New York City Departments of Design and Construction, Health and Mental Hygiene, Transportation, City Planning, and the Office of Management and Budget

Walking and Biking to School, Physical Activity and Health Outcomes Research Brief (.pdf)
Active Living Research, 2009

NYC Vital Signs: Physical Activity in New York City (.pdf)
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 2009

The Influence of the Physical Environment and Sociodemographic Characteristics on Children’s Mode of Travel to and From School
Kristian Larsen et al., 2008

Livable Streets for School Children: How Safe Routes to School programs can improve street and community livability for children (.pdf)
Bruce Appleyard, 2005

Barriers to Children Walking To or From School
S. Martin and S. Carlson, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004

Physical Activity and the Health of Young People
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004

School Location and Student Travel: Analysis of Factors Affecting Mode Choice (.pdf)
Reid Ewing, William Schroeer, and William Greene, 2004

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