Safe Routes to School :: Practice and Promise
Evaluation and Outcomes -
How Do You Measure Success?

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Chapter Three








Evaluation Experiences from the Field

Because most SR2S efforts have not been in existence for a long time, it is difficult to gauge their long-term success. We have indications from Odense, Denmark and Great Britain that SR2S efforts can lead to decreases in crashes and injuries and increases in the numbers of children walking and bicycling to school. These efforts did not begin with a strong commitment to evaluation, but their leaders have recognized the value of documenting the effects of their work over time.

In the following section, Promising Practices – From Whom Can We Learn? we describe a number of SR2S efforts in this country and abroad. All of these efforts appear to have made an impact in their communities, over time. Because SR2S efforts exist within communities – not laboratories — there are many factors, which can affect the outcomes we desire: more active children, less traffic, cleaner air, and fewer injuries. In the future, there may be complex and expensive evaluation projects that offer specific details about cause and effect.

For now, however, any SR2S leaders can at least compare the situation in their own communities before they began their efforts, and after. They can also look at their own communities and consider other neighborhoods that have not tried to increase walking and bicycling to school — are there differences? These are fairly simple questions that do not require a great deal of data or a sophisticated evaluation design.

It is important for all SR2S project leaders to gather some of the data we have described in this section. We recognize that data can be difficult to gather. It can vary from month to month, and from season to season. Data gathered from children (e.g., “raise your hand if you walk to school regularly”) can be inaccurate or, at least, incomplete. Nevertheless, as more people in more communities work on safe routes to school, everyone's data — though imperfect — will add to our overall understanding of what works. Simple information on evaluation is available from a variety of sources, including, The Art of Appropriate Evaluation and Demonstrating Your Program's Worth: A Primer on Evaluation for Programs to Prevent Unintentional Injury, as listed in Appendix B: Resources, Publications, and Organizations.

Table 2

Specific Information Needed Sources for Data
Current walking/biking levels among students
  • Student survey
  • Observation in front of school
Potential walking/biking level (number of students within reasonable distance of school who do not currently walk/bike)
  • School records of students' home addresses
  • Student survey of distance to school
  • Parent survey of distance to school
Physical barriers to a safe or appealing walk/bike trip to school
  • Student survey with maps
  • Parent survey with maps
  • NHTSA Walkability/Bikeability Checklists, filled out by surveying the neighborhood
Preference or attitudinal barriers to walking/biking to school
  • Student survey, Parent survey
    Survey of support for walking/biking in local community (from parents, community groups, schools, government, and health professionals)
Pedestrian and bicyclist crashes and injuries Local police department data
  • Local hospitals
  • National Center for Health Statistics
  • Public health department
  • Other advocacy groups
Traffic law infractions near school
  • Local police department data
  • Special police study
  • Observational study by advocates
Dangerous behavior near school (e.g., abductions, harassment of students, bullying)
  • Local police department data
  • Reports from school administrators
Physical activity level of students
  • Student survey
Walking/biking behavior in community
  • Parent survey; community survey
Air pollution caused by private car trips
to/from school
  • Observations of parents or students regarding the smell of the air
  • Air pollution monitoring via mechanical device

Two children walking

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