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

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Preface


Acknowledgments

   

It is easy to be enthusiastic about a one-day walk to school or bicycle rodeo event. Once the enthusiasm of the event is over, though, Safe Routes To School (SR2S) leaders are left with the task of building an ongoing, comprehensive, community-change effort, which requires collaboration from many people and organizations, and money and time to implement. At the end of the day, everyone wants to know: “Were we successful? Is this community safer and healthier because of what we did?” Decision-makers, funders, and local advocates need concrete indications that the answers to these questions are “yes.”

Indicators of Success

Evaluation frightens many people. Others just don't want to be bothered; they are engaged in positive activities, and children and parents are happy. However, as the movement of SR2S has matured in the United States, it has become clear that evaluation data are critical. Collecting data is important at the beginning of a project, in order to identify and address areas of concern. This identification of a problem is a powerful motivator for action to create safe routes to school. Ongoing evaluation helps to keep a project on track, and to document changes at different points in time.

Over the past several years, we asked numerous people involved in SR2S what evaluation information they want. We asked them:

  • What information would help you know you have been successful?
  • What would help you change strategies if something you're doing is not working?
  • What information would help you gain buy-in from those who could support your efforts through legislation or funding?

Table 1

Key Indicators of Success for Safe Routes To School Efforts
Outcome
Measure Before and After
Desired Direction of Change
Behavior of children
  • Numbers of children walking to and from school
  • Numbers of children bicycling to and from school
  • Skills for walking and bicycling safely
Up Arrow More
Up Arrow More
Up Arrow Better
Behavior of drivers
  • Numbers of vehicles arriving and departing school at morning drop-off and evening pick-up times
  • Speed of vehicles in and around school area
  • Aggressive driving behavior (e.g., not yielding to pedestrians)
  • Number of driving trips by parents and length of morning and evening commute
Up Arrow Fewer
Up Arrow Slower
Up Arrow Less
Up Arrow Less
Community facilities
  • Quality of walking environment: number and usefulness of sidewalks and bike lanes
  • Safely designed intersections (lights, crosswalks, etc.)
Up Arrow Better
Up Arrow More
Crashes and Injuries
  • Number of traffic crashes involving children walking or biking to and from school
  • Severity of injuries to children from traffic on their way to and from school
  • Number of conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians/bicyclists which would be likely to lead to crashes (i.e., "near misses")
Up Arrow Lower
Up Arrow Less severe
Up Arrow Lower
Community
buy-in
  • Number of different types of people involved in the SR2S effort
  • Level of commitment and energy displayed by the SSR2S collaborators
  • Parent enthusiasm about SR2S and allowing their children to walk or bike
Up Arrow More
Up Arrow Higher
Up Arrow Higher
Environmental quality
  • Level of air and noise pollution in school area
  • Land devoted to parking and drop-off/pick-up areas
Up Arrow Lower
Up Arrow Less

Depending on how the leaders of the SR2S effort define the problem in their community, they might gather information on all of these measures, or only some. Some measures are technical and difficult to collect: air quality data, injury data, vehicle speed. Some are very easy: number of cars driving up to the school gate at a certain time. For many of the measures, the data collector will want to know more than just a simple number—perhaps a rate or a percentage, especially if working with several schools. It is important to note that crash and injury numbers may be low simply because fewer children walk or bicycle. In this case, this is not an indicator that a neighborhood is safe; it may indicate that parents don't consider the area safe enough to allow their children to walk or bicycle.

Gathering Data

Defining the problem gives the leader(s) the framework needed to gather information and statistics. Then they can decide which aforementioned measures will provide the information most likely to generate further support and best evaluate the effectiveness of the SR2S effort as it progresses. Unfortunately, many leaders, parents, children, and school personnel get caught up in the enthusiasm of the effort and neglect to gather basic information about the current situation in the community (e.g., How many people are walking? Frequency and type of injuries? Extent of air pollution from idling cars?). Without such baseline information it is difficult to pinpoint success and, without documented success, to continue the enthusiasm and funding for the efforts. The good news is that there are many different places you can find data.

The trick is to get enough information, but not get bogged down in details. The Safe Routes To School Working Group on Data Collection, sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists, suggests the sources listed in Table 2, as seen on the next page, for gathering useful data.
 


At the end of the day, everyone wants to know: "Were we successful?

Is this community safer and healthier because of what we did?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A police officer talking with a young girl

 

Regardless of what the organizers name the project, all include a combination of activities that make it safer for children to walk and bicycle to school.

 

 

 

An adult walking with young boys

 

 

 
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