A Data Model and Internet GIS Framework for Safe Routes to School

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND

In 1969, approximately half of all students walked or bicycled to schools. But now, less than 15 percent of children do so; more than half of the students arrive at schools by private automobiles (FHWA). Problems accompanying this change include childhood obesity, traffic congestion, air pollution, and pedestrian safety issues. (NHTSA 2004, Frank et al. 2005, Lopez et al. 2006, Hurvitz 2005, Crawford 2006, McMillan 2005, 2007). To address these issues, the Congress passed federal legislation to establish a National Safe Routes to School Program (SRTS) in 2005. The SRTS program is administered and guided by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). The FHWA recommends that SRTS efforts in the United States incorporate, directly or indirectly, the five components, often referred to as the five Es: engineering, education, enforcement, encouragement, and evaluation.

Information about walking and bicycling facility conditions of neighborhoods around schools is key to the implementation of the five Es. For example, urban planners and public health authorities need the information to assess neighborhood walking and bicycling safety conditions, transportation engineers need the information for roadway and intersection improvement, law enforcement officers need the information to respond to unsafe factors, law makers need the information to initiate new policies, parents need the information to understand their neighborhood safety and security conditions, and children also may need the information to guide their walking and bicycling activities.

Walking and bicycling safety data collection and assessment have been conducted by various interested parties such as urban planners, transportation engineers, and public health administrators. A significant trend in such data collection is to provide environment attribute information to planners and to evaluate new environmental and policy initiatives (Sallis et al. 1998, Ewing et al. 2003, Frank and Engelke 2001, Leslie et al. 2007). For example, Schlossberg et al. (2006) use street networks around transit stops and schools to quantitatively analyze local walkability and provide useful planning and evaluation tools for transportation planners interested in enhancing the local walkable environment. However, a good deal of existing pedestrian safety data collection activities are orientated to an adult walking environment (McMillan 2007, Schlossberg et al. 2007). For instance, Leslie et al. (2007) measure features of the built environment that may influence adults' physical activities and develop indexes of walkability at the local level. GIS technology has been used in some data collection activities to obtain spatial measures of urban form, transportation facilities, and resource accessibility (Schlossberg et al. 2007, Leslie et al. 2007).

Transportation engineers focus on individual transportation facilities at restricted locations. For example, a transportation project targeted at improving a specific street intersection or a segment of sidewalk surface may collect data in the geometry, traffic flow, pedestrians, and accidents at the construction site before and after the implementation of engineering measurements. Walking and bicycling safety checklists often are used for such project-specific data collection.

While walking and bicycling safety data collection is a common practice for urban planning and transportation engineering projects, similar activities dedicated to SRTS are rarely seen in literature. Because most of the current data collection practices are not school-trip oriented, direct participants of SRTS programs, including children, parents, and schools, are not involved, and their concerns are not reflected. To date, there are no standards or specifications to guide comprehensive data collection for SRTS. Given that SRTS is a widely embracing public participating effort involving participants from a wide range of areas, including schools, parents, children, planners, engineers, public health organizations, and law enforcement institutions, keeping everybody informed is essential to the success of an SRTS program. …