Young NJ kids walking, biking to school will continue as they get older

A study of school-aged children and their families interviewed twice, years apart, over an eight-year period in four key New Jersey metropolitan areas, found that if these children went to they walked or cycled to school from an early age, and were seven times more likely to continue to do so when they were older.

Findings from the New Jersey Children’s Health Study, co-authored by David Tulloch, professor of landscape architecture at Rutgers University, were published in the April edition of the journal Preventive Medicine Reports.

In a statement, Rutgers described the four towns studied — Camden, New Brunswick, Newark and Trenton — as “predominantly low-income,” but Tulloch said they aren’t the only localities in the state with schools close to enough homes to make walking widely possible.

“These communities actually share qualities with a number of others in New Jersey,” he said. “They have a lot of connected streets, with sidewalks.”

“Active travel” — what is it?

Many children choose to walk or cycle to school in these municipalities, according to Tulloch, even when the bus is an option.

It’s a concept the study refers to as “active commuting,” which has an obvious fitness component, but is also simply something “wonderful,” according to Tulloch, that students can look forward to.

Walking or biking increases socialization between students, he said, as well as from child to parent, at least when the child is young enough to require adult accompaniment.

“It can also just be about improving the student’s learning experience, and when it’s possible, when it’s something we can do, it’s something that can really help that child,” Tulloch said. “Knowing that walking at an early age helps shape this behavior later is a very powerful incentive.”

Security in many ways

The study found that if parents felt their neighborhood was generally crime-free, their children were two and a half times more likely to actively move around.

But that’s not the only type of security that Tulloch said cities should be concerned about in trying to spur this trend.

Turning walking or commuting into something more appealing to students and families, but also doing things like providing better crosswalks, can boost those numbers.

“Making sure that this school approach prioritizes walking students, as opposed to cars dropping off other students,” Tulloch said.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]

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