Children's route choice during active transportation to school: difference between shortest and actual route

Dirk Dessing, Sanne I. de Vries, Geertje Hegeman, Evert Verhagen, Willem van Mechelen, Frank H. Pierik

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The purpose of this study is to increase our understanding of environmental correlates that are associated with route choice during active transportation to school (ATS) by comparing characteristics of actual walking and cycling routes between home and school with the shortest possible route to school. Children (n = 184; 86 boys, 98 girls; age range: 8-12 years) from seven schools in suburban municipalities in the Netherlands participated in the study. Actual walking and cycling routes to school were measured with a GPS-device that children wore during an entire school week. Measurements were conducted in the period April-June 2014. Route characteristics for both actual and shortest routes between home and school were determined for a buffer of 25 m from the routes and divided into four categories: Land use (residential, commercial, recreational, traffic areas), Aesthetics (presence of greenery/natural water ways along route), Traffic (safety measures such as traffic lights, zebra crossings, speed bumps) and Type of street (pedestrian, cycling, residential streets, arterial roads). Comparison of characteristics of shortest and actual routes was performed with conditional logistic regression models. Median distance of the actual walking routes was 390.1 m, whereas median distance of actual cycling routes was 673.9 m. Actual walking and cycling routes were not significantly longer than the shortest possible routes. Children mainly traveled through residential areas on their way to school (>80% of the route). Traffic lights were found to be positively associated with route choice during ATS. Zebra crossings were less often present along the actual routes (walking: OR = 0.17, 95% CI = 0.05-0.58; cycling: OR = 0.31, 95% CI = 0.14-0.67), and streets with a high occurrence of accidents were less often used during cycling to school (OR = 0.57, 95% CI = 0.43-0.76). Moreover, percentage of visible surface water along the actual route was higher compared to the shortest routes (walking: OR = 1.04, 95% CI = 1.01-1.07; cycling: OR = 1.03, 95% CI = 1.01-1.05). This study showed a novel approach to examine built environmental exposure during active transport to school. Most of the results of the study suggest that children avoid to walk or cycle along busy roads on their way to school
Original languageEnglish
Article number48
Pages (from-to)48
Journalinternational journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2016


  • Active transportation
  • Built environment
  • Children
  • Cycling
  • Elementary school
  • GIS
  • Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Walking

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