Walking and Bicycling Audits

Walking and bicycling audits, sometimes called assessments, are processes that involve the systematic gathering of data about environmental conditions (social, built and natural) that affect walking and bicycling. Audits are typically performed by personnel with experience in pedestrian and bicycle issues or training on the specific audit tool used. One objective of the audits is to document factors that help or hinder safe walking and bicycling. These factors include, but are not limited to, street lighting, sidewalk width and condition, traffic volume, presence of bicycle lanes, topography, and presence of dogs, trash and debris.

Audits might focus on a school site, a corridor popular for bicycling or an intersection that residents find daunting. Walking and bicycling audits are tools that provide community stakeholders (parents, children, school staff, public works or traffic department staff, local engineers or planners, and law enforcement) with the information they need to effectively analyze the design and condition of the transportation network. This information can help identify areas conducive to walking and bicycling, identify areas where changes are needed and inform the solutions chosen to create change. For engineers and planners, audits provide useful feedback to help them incorporate these ideas into their work.

Numerous walking and bicycling audit tools exist, and they can vary in the scope and scale of data they collect. Some audits focus broadly on the network or route level, while others hone in on details of the individual street segments that comprise a route or network. Determining which type of audit tool is most appropriate will depend on the audit participants, data needs and available resources. Collecting information on every street segment will provide a detailed and comprehensive assessment, but it may require data collection training and labor intensive data collection and analysis. Audit information collected at the neighborhood level can provide an overview of the walkability and bikeability along routes to school, but it may not allow for pin-pointing a specific area along the route that is a trouble spot.

In addition to assessing infrastructure and conditions currently in place, audits can be used to analyze proposed development construction plans or other projects that will introduce change into a neighborhood. Audits are useful for analyzing proposals to ensure that the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians are accommodated in all stages of a project.

Results from the walking and bicycling audits combined with the walk-about and bike-about activities and parent and student surveys form the basis of the design of a Safe Routes to School program. This information can also be used in the development of school traffic control plans.

Putting It Into Practice: School Walking Routes Pilot Project

Ontario, Canada

Research suggests that if there were “safe routes” for children to walk or cycle to school more families would choose this form of transportation. The School Walking Routes pilot project of Green Communities Active & Safe Routes to School set out to test this.

The School Walking Routes pilot project was implemented in four steps including:

  1. Mapping: students in participating schools were asked to draw their routes to school on maps of their school’s catchment area. Maps were sorted by grade and by street and one master map was created of the most popular routes.
  2. Observing: municipal transportation staff collected baseline data for each mapped route at each school site.
  3. Analyzing traffic: Municipal transportation staff coordinated traffic counts at each of the four schools before, during and after the pilot project.
  4. Surveying: parents, children and community members were surveyed at the start and end of the project.

Families who chose to participate in walking school buses were encouraged to walk along the designated routes, which were selected by local municipal and police staff as the best route from the perspective of traffic safety and pedestrian controls. School Route signs placed along the route provide the following benefits:

  • Notification to drivers that they were on a designated walking route to a school and to use extra caution.
  • Encouragement for parents to walk their children along the designated walking route, thus creating more eyes on the street. This is critical in the establishment and sustainability of Walking School Buses.
  • Encouragement for pedestrians and cyclists to cross only at the designated intersections.
  • Promote the culture of child safety in general.

Project organizers found that collecting data through observations is labor-intensive and not cost-effective and there are many factors contributing to transportation choice of families from one day to the next. Also, signs coupled with other Active and Safe Routes to School initiatives can change behavior of drivers and encourage more people to walk their children to school.

Phase 1 of the School Walking Routes pilot project was implemented in Toronto in April 2002. During 2004 Phase 2 of the School Walking Routes pilot project was expanded from the City of Toronto to three other Ontario municipalities – London, Brantford and Brampton. Phase 2 of this pilot was completed in 2006.

For more information visit Active and Safe Routes to School.