Built Environment and Children's Travel to School

In this study, children living in dense, urban areas were more likely to participate in active transportation to school and for other purposes. Children’s preferences for autonomy and independent travel are related to parental confidence in their ability to travel independently.


  • Distance to school is strongly related to independent mobility; children in the “not-active traveler” cluster lived nearly twice as far from school as the “active traveler” cluster.
  • Boys were allowed to travel more freely than girls, and older children were given more freedom to walk and bike in their neighborhoods.
  • Children with less “license” for individual mobility (walking to school, crossing roads, riding a bicycling, taking public transportation) are less likely to use active transportation than children without these limitations.
  • Child preference to be driven corresponds with parental lack of confidence in the child’s ability to travel independently.
  • Values and perceptions of social norms on children’s independent mobility differed by parental group. The parental group that was most restrictive of their children’s mobility was most likely to view children walking or cycling without an adult as irresponsible and most likely to feel that other parents would be concerned to see their children traveling by themselves in the neighborhood, compared to other parental groups.


  • This study is based on questionnaires completed by 273 children ages 9-13 and their parents from nine schools in urban areas in Australia.
  • The study divided parents into clusters (“free range,” “home zone,” and “bubble wrapped”) based on both their willingness to allow children to travel to school, cross roads, or cycle without an adult and the range children could travel independently, either alone or with friends and siblings.

Curtis, C., Babb, C., and Olaru, D. (2015). Built environment and children’s travel to school. Transport Policy, 42, 21-33.

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