Safe accessibility

Not that long ago, walking to school was rite of passage for most children living in North American cities.  Walking to school gave children opportunities to independently explore our neighbourhoods, interact with neighbours and get important physical activity.

Today, fewer children walk to school than in the past; according to Active and Safe Routes to School, only 1 in 3 Canadian children routinely walk to school, with nearly half now ‘chauffeured’ in cars. This not only deprives children an important developmental experience, but increases traffic congestion, particularly near schools.  This increased traffic also contributes to a positive feedback effect, making the road environment less safe for children that choose to walk, which may encourage yet more chauffeuring in the future.

In this project, we are concerned with understanding how the safety of child pedestrians varies within urban areas, and helping make the routes to school safer for children.  Our approach involves modelling the risk of collisions involving child pedestrians and motor-vehicles on streets and intersections, and then applying this model to entire transportation systems.  The result is a digital map of risk that can be used for planning routes to school. Importantly, this approach allows parents to calibrate route choices with their perceptions of risk by allowing parents to balance route safety against trip length.

Our results thus far suggest that the best route choices are very likely dependent on child attributes, including their age, sex and even personality.  This emphasizes the importance of combining parental knowledge with empirical assessments of risk.  We are currently developing an interactive website using the Google Maps API that parents will be able to use to select and compare walking route options.

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