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Walking school buses

Health Factors: Diet & Exercise Housing & Transit
Decision Makers: Community Members Educators Nonprofit Leaders
Evidence Rating: Scientifically Supported
Population Reach: 10-19% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: No impact on disparities likely

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Description

Walking school buses are an organized mode of active transportation for students walking to school. Walking school buses have a fixed route, with designated stops and pick up times when children can join adult chaperones to walk to school. Walking school bus programs can be implemented in neighborhoods of various socio-economic status (SES), and frequently are in urban and suburban areas where many children live close enough to walk to school. Children who live farther than walking distance from school may join walking school buses at pre-appointed spots along the route, especially in rural areas (SRTS-Walking school bus).    

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

Increased active transportation
Increased physical activity
Improved health outcomes
Improved sense of community
Increased academic achievement
Reduced vehicle miles traveled
Reduced emissions

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that walking school buses increase instances of walking to school for participating students (Smith 2015, Chillon 2011, Davison 2008). Walking school buses may also increase participants’ overall moderate to vigorous activity levels (Smith 2015), and help them continue to be physically active as they get older (Sayers 2012); however, additional evidence is needed to confirm these effects.

Interventions that encourage active transportation to school, such as walking school buses, have been shown to improve many health and fitness outcomes, including weight status/body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness, and muscular fitness and flexibility, for children and adolescents (Lubans 2011, Mendoza 2011a). Research also suggests that time spent outside (e.g., walking to school) is beneficial for cognitive development and academic performance (Smith 2015). Walking school buses can encourage positive social interaction between participants of all ages and may increase children’s road safety skills (Smith 2015).

District policies and state laws supporting safe active routes to school have been associated with an increased likelihood that elementary schools will implement walking school bus programs (Turner 2013). A program coordinator, especially paid, can increase program effectiveness through outreach to parents, management of walking routes, rosters, and volunteers, partnership with community organizations to emphasize safe streets, and donation and incentive coordination (Smith 2015). In programs without coordinators, maintaining volunteer interest and support beyond the initial phase of a walking school bus program can be a challenge to sustainability, especially for schools in low income areas and areas with poor walking infrastructure (Smith 2015, Mendoza 2014, Henderson 2013a, VicHealth-Ross 2007).

Some researchers suggest that GPS tracking in smartphones can monitor the walking school bus en route, which may help alleviate parental concerns about safety (Smith 2015). A Belgium-based study suggests that designated drop off locations can encourage participation of children who live farther from school (Vanwolleghem 2014).

Walking school bus programs appear to be generally well-received in communities. New Zealand-based surveys, for example, suggest parent coordinators value the sense of community created by walking school buses as well as the exercise and other potential health benefits (Collins 2010).

Replacing automotive trips with biking and walking can reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and emissions at relatively low cost, although the long-term effect on traffic reduction is likely minor (Smith 2015, RAND-Sorenson 2008, Salon 2012). 

Implementation

United States

As of the 2009-2010 school year, 6.2% of public elementary schools nationwide had implemented a walking school bus program (Turner 2013). Walking school buses may be implemented by schools as well as by a variety of individuals, community organizations, and government entities. For example, Somerville, NJ and Seattle, WA each have walking school buses started by school staff (Esteves 2014, Lawton WSB 2015). A walking school bus in Springfield, MA was started by a local Family Nurse Practitioner (Springfield 2013). East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation started a walking school bus in Oakland, CA (Beeler 2014).

State and local governments can support walking school bus programs; for example, in Maine and St. Petersburg, FL small funding streams have been created to pay for safety vests, crossing signs, and volunteer background checks (Maine WSB 2015, St. Petersburg WSB 2013).

Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has a toolkit for establishing Safe Routes to Schools that includes a section about implementing a walking school bus (WI DOT-SRTS toolkit). Walking school buses can be found in many communities, including Deerfield (DCSD-WSB), Madison (Leopold Elementary), and Wisconsin Rapids (Wisconsin Rapids-WSB).

Implementation Resources

CDC-DNPAO data - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Nutrition Physical Activity and Obesity (DNPAO). Nutrition, physical activity and obesity: Data, trends and maps online tool. Accessed on February 2, 2017
HOST-PA - Healthy Out-of-School Time (HOST) Coalition. Resources: Physical activity (PA). Accessed on March 9, 2017
LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC). 2014. Accessed on March 1, 2016
Olmsted County-WSB manual - County of Olmsted. The walking school bus resource manual: Steps to a healthier Rochester, MN. 2015. Accessed on March 10, 2016
Seattle DOT-WSB 2015 - City of Seattle Department of Transportation (DOT). Walking school bus: Get to know your neighbors by starting your own walking school bus (WSB). 2015. Accessed on March 10, 2016
SRTS-Walking school bus - National Center for Safe Routes to School (SRTS). Starting a walking school bus. Accessed on November 24, 2015
SRTS-Walking school bus guide - National Center for Safe Routes to School (SRTS). The walking school bus: Combining safety, fun and the walk to school. Accessed on November 23, 2015
Steckly 2014 - Steckly R, McEwan L. Active transport for the school journey. WellSpring: Sharing physical activity knowledge. Alberta Center for Active Living; 2014. 

Accessed on March 10, 2016
WFC-Resources - Walk Friendly Communities (WFC), Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. Resources. Accessed on March 3, 2016

Citations - Description

SRTS-Walking school bus - National Center for Safe Routes to School (SRTS). Starting a walking school bus. Accessed on November 24, 2015

Citations - Evidence

Chillon 2011 - Chillón P, Evenson KR, Vaughn A, Ward DS. A systematic review of interventions for promoting active transportation to school. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2011;8:10. Accessed on December 7, 2015
Collins 2010* - Collins D, Kearns RA. Walking school buses in the Auckland region: A longitudinal assessment. Transport Policy. 2010;17(1):1–8. Accessed on December 8, 2015
Davison 2008 - Davison KK, Werder JL, Lawson CT. Children’s active commuting to school: Current knowledge and future directions. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2008;5(3). Accessed on December 8, 2015
Henderson 2013a - Henderson S, Tanner R, Klanderman N, et al. Safe Routes to School: A public health practice success story- Atlanta, 2008-2010. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2013;10:141-142. Accessed on March 10, 2016
Lubans 2011 - Lubans DR, Boreham CA, Kelly P, Foster CE. The relationship between active travel to school and health-related fitness in children and adolescents: A systematic review. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2011;8:5. Accessed on March 1, 2016
Mendoza 2011a - Mendoza JA, Katson K, Nguyen N, et al. Active commuting to school and association with physical activity and adiposity among US youth. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2011;8(4):488-95. Accessed on January 28, 2016
Mendoza 2014 - Mendoza JA, Cowan D, Liu Y. Predictors of children's active commuting to school: An observational evaluation in five US communities. The Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2014;11(4):729-733. Accessed on March 10, 2016
RAND-Sorenson 2008 - Sorenson P, Wachs M, Min EY, et al. Moving Los Angeles: Short-term policy options for improving transportation. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2008: Monograph Report 748. Accessed on May 24, 2016
Salon 2012* - Salon D, Boarnet MG, Handy S, Spears S, Tal G. How do local actions affect VMT? A critical review of the empirical evidence. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment. 2012;17(7):495–508. Accessed on November 24, 2015
Sayers 2012* - Sayers SP, LeMaster JW, Thomas IM, Petroski GF, Ge B. A Walking School Bus program: Impact on physical activity in elementary school children in Columbia, Missouri. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2012;43(5 Suppl 4):S384–9. Accessed on November 23, 2015
Smith 2015 - Smith L, Norgate SH, Cherrett T, et al. Walking school buses as a form of active transportation for children: A review of the evidence. Journal of School Health. 2015;85(3):197-210. Accessed on March 10, 2016
Turner 2013* - Turner L, Chriqui JF, Chaloupka FJ. Walking school bus programs in U.S. public elementary schools. Journal of Physical Activity & Health. 2013;10(5):641–5. Accessed on November 23, 2015
Vanwolleghem 2014 - Vanwolleghem G, D'Haese S, Van Dyck D, De Bourdeaudhuij I, Cardon G. Feasibility and effectiveness of drop-off spots to promote walking to school. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2014;11:136. Accessed on March 10, 2016
VicHealth-Ross 2007 - Ross I. Walking the walk: Evaluation of phases 1 and 2 of the Walking School Bus program. Victoria, AU: Victoria Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth); 2007. Accessed on November 23, 2015

Citations - Implementation

Beeler 2014 - Beeler, M. Walking School Bus: A route to improved academics for young EBALDC residents (East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation). East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. 2014. Accessed on March 10, 2016
DCSD-WSB - Deerfield Community School District. Walking school bus. Accessed on December 10, 2015
Esteves 2014 - Esteves S. Getting to school on a foot-powered bus. CNN.com. 2014. Accessed on March 10, 2016
Lawton WSB 2015 - Lawton Elementary School. Walking School Bus (WSB). Seattle Public Schools. Seattle, WA. 2015. Accessed on March 10, 2016
Leopold Elementary - Leopold Elementary School. Walking school bus. Accessed on November 20, 2015
Maine WSB 2015 - Maine Walking School Bus Program. Walking School Bus, Maine. 2015. Accessed on March 10, 2016
Springfield 2013 - Safe Routes Matters. Walking school bus program helps move a neighborhood forward in Springfield, MA. National Center for Safe Routes to School. July/August 2013. Accessed on March 10, 2016
St. Petersburg WSB 2013 - Walking school bus (WSB) program helps students get to school. The St. Petersburg Tribune. 2013. Accessed on March 10, 2016
Turner 2013* - Turner L, Chriqui JF, Chaloupka FJ. Walking school bus programs in U.S. public elementary schools. Journal of Physical Activity & Health. 2013;10(5):641–5. Accessed on November 23, 2015
WI DOT-SRTS toolkit - Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). Safe Routes to School - Toolkit. Accessed on December 12, 2015
Wisconsin Rapids-WSB - Wisconsin Rapids. Walking school bus. Accessed on March 15, 2016

Page Last Updated

October 22, 2015

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