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It's true - kids want to walk or cycle to school for fun and fitness

Posted 17 May 2018 - 4:02pm

The truth is out – South Australian kids really do want to walk, cycle or scoot to school, but most are driven by car according to new research funded by the CRC for Low Carbon Living (CRCLCL) and released on National Walk Safely to School Day.

The survey findings from the University of South Australia are for an ongoing research project – among the first to investigate the creation of socially and environmentally sustainable communities through child and youth friendly places – show nearly three-quarters of children aged between 10 and 13 at three primary schools in Adelaide and Melbourne, would rather take active transport to and from school, citing enjoyment and fitness (34.2%) as the top reason.

Despite their desire to walk, cycle or scoot to school, 67% travelled by car on the day of the survey, and 35% said they never took an active travel route, even though nearly half of them lived within four kilometres of their school which is within walking and cycling distance. More girls travelled by car (72.7%) compared to boys (57.1%), even though 96.2% owned a bicycle and more than three-quarters a powered scooter or a skateboard.

“Our results clearly show that children are more than happy to get to school under their own steam, with some expressing environmental concerns as well as speed for preferring cycling over other modes of transport. For those who preferred travel by car, 85.7% said it was distance that was the key reason for this preference,” explained lead CRCLCL researcher Hulya Gilbert.

“We also found that kids who walked, cycled or scooted to school were more aware of their route and favourite and least favourite social places along the way than those who went by car,” she said.

In all 40% of children said their favourite places to and from school were either a specific café or ice-cream shop, with parks and playgrounds coming second at 16.7%.

Interestingly fast food, cigarette and opportunity shops were most disliked by 19.6%, with 15.2% of respondents disliking road works, construction sites and badly maintained footpaths.

“Some children emphasised the importance of education in helping them understand the benefits of active transport. This verifies existing research that says a wide range of factors are needed to successfully endorse active travel, education being one,” said Gilbert.

“Overall, our results not only revealed children’s wishes for a shift towards more sustainable modes of transport, but more accessible places and resources on their journey. For children, transport means much more than reaching their destination but enjoying the journey by stopping at a favourite place or climbing a tree. Making the routes to schools and various public places more child friendly will invite more families to choose active travel,” she concluded.

The research consisted of 54 surveys completed by children at two primary schools in Adelaide and one in Melbourne during April and May 2017. The children took part in a mapping activity involving marking the route between home and school, the mode of transport and public places frequently visited.