2017 - Research

Social inequalities in child pedestrian traffic injuries: Differences in neighborhood built environments near schools in Austin, TX, USA

Key takeaway:

  • Barriers to children’s pedestrian safety include longer block lengths, missing sidewalks, crosswalk density, and commercial land uses around schools.
  • The lack of sidewalks and well-designed crosswalks puts children of lower socioeconomic backgrounds at greater risk of pedestrian crashes. 

Results:

  • Children of lower socioeconomic backgrounds are most vulnerable to pedestrian crashes because of poor infrastructure (i.e., absent sidewalks and poorly designed crosswalks) and increased likelihood of walking to school.
  • Aspects of the built environment that increased child pedestrian crashes include:
    • Longer block lengths: Longer block lengths increase children’s vulnerability to pedestrian crashes because it may increase driving speeds, hinder drivers from yielding to child pedestrians, decrease drivers’ vision and response time to children on or crossing the street, and increase children’s likelihoods to cross mid-block rather than at a farther intersection.
    • Missing sidewalks: More missing sidewalks = more child pedestrian crashes.
    • Higher crosswalk density: The denser crosswalks around schools are, the more likely child pedestrian crashes will occur. This may be because streets with high crosswalk densities increase the potential for pedestrian-vehicle conflicts.
    • More commercial land uses: Greater land use mix decreased the risk of child pedestrian crashes only in high-income school neighborhoods. Greater commercial land uses around schools generate more vehicular traffic, which increases the risk of child pedestrian crashes. The researchers suggest that mixed-land uses may not necessarily promote pedestrian safety in school neighborhoods unless adequate pedestrian infrastructure is provided.
    • Missing sidewalks and crosswalk density only impacted child pedestrian crash frequencies in school neighborhoods of low-income and with a large Hispanic population: More missing sidewalks and denser crosswalks meant more child pedestrian crashes.
    • Safe sidewalks, well-designed crosswalks, and diverse land uses are unequally distributed across school neighborhoods, such that they are more prevalent in neighborhoods with more affluent populations compared to neighborhoods with lower socioeconomic statuses. The researchers call for targeted investments in disadvantaged neighborhoods, given the pervasive disparities in child pedestrian safety based on race/ethnicity and income. They also call for more collaboration among planners, engineers, health professionals, neighborhood leaders, and pedestrian safety advocates in order to promote child pedestrian safety around schools.
    • According to the researchers, their findings indicate that the presence of crosswalks alone will not ensure child pedestrian safety around schools. In fact, poorly designed crosswalks may even hinder child pedestrian safety. Marked crosswalks could even increase the chance of child pedestrian crashes if they aren’t accompanied by other traffic calming measures.

Implications:

  • While engineering aspects of the built environment are significant in influencing child pedestrian safety, they could be reinforced with Safe Routes to School education and encouragement programs.
  • Safe Routes to School advocates can play a pivotal role in engaging stakeholders and bridging various sectors (i.e., planners, engineers, health professionals, etc.) to maximize child health and safety.
  • In order to diminish disparities in child pedestrian safety based on race/ethnicity and income, investments in infrastructure to support safe walking and bicycling should be targeted in neighborhoods that need them most.

Methods:

  • The researchers studied the impacts of built environments around 124 public schools on child pedestrian crashes in Austin, TX, given its relatively high rate of pedestrian fatalities, using child pedestrian crash data from 2010 to 2014. They examined density (i.e., population, crosswalk, and transit stop densities), diversity (i.e., land use mix), and design (i.e., sidewalk and block length) to explain relationships between the built environment and traffic safety.

Hwang, J.; Joh, K.; Woo, A. (2017). Social inequalities in child pedestrian traffic injuries: Differences in neighborhood built environments near schools in Austin, TX, USA. Journal of Transport & Health, 7.