Relationship between Motor Vehicle Speed and Active School Transportation at Elementary Schools in Toronto and Calgary, Canada

Author(s): Rothman, Ling, HubkaRao, Hagel, Macarthur, Winters, Churchill, Macpherson, Cloutier, Howard

Poster Presentation:




Higher traffic speeds increase the risk and severity of motor vehicle collision injuries among child pedestrians and bicyclists. Concerns about speeding may also deter parents from allowing their children to walk or bike to school. Few studies have examined the association between traffic speeds near schools and objectively measured active school transportation (AST).


Study objectives were: (1) to quantify ‘speeding’ during school hours using three speed metrics, a) proportion of vehicles travelling over 30 km/h (selected as this is a speed below which pedestrians have a better chance of surviving a motor vehicle collision), b) proportion of vehicles exceeding the speed limit, and c) 85th percentile speed, and (2) to examine the influence of vehicle speed on AST.


A cross-sectional study design was used to study schools in Toronto (n=42) and Calgary (n=46), Canada. In May and June 2018, observers measured school travel mode (car, walk, bike, or other modes) and the presence of school crossing guards. Vehicle speeds and volumes were estimated using pneumatic speed tubes placed on the road outside the school’s main entrance. School environment features: road type, presence of sidewalks, cycling infrastructure, and pedestrian crossovers, were also assessed. Using multivariable beta regression models, the relationship between vehicle speed and AST was examined, adjusting for school environment features.


The prevalence of AST was 64% (range: 30% – 99%) in Toronto and 44% (range: 19% – 77%) in Calgary. During school hours (07:30 to 18:00), speed limits ranged from 30 to 60 km/h in Toronto and were uniformly 30km/h in Calgary. In Toronto and Calgary respectively, the proportion of vehicles travelling over 30 km/h was 72% (SD=23%) and 45% (SD=15%) and the proportion of vehicles exceeding the speed limit was 42% (SD=24%) and 45% (SD=15%). The average 85th percentile speed was 47 km/h (SD=10 km/h) in Toronto and 35 km/h (SD=3 km/h) in Calgary. In Toronto, for every 1 km/h increase in the mean 85th percentile speed, the odds of active school transportation decreased by 3% (OR: 0.97, 95% CI: 0.95, 0.99). No association between vehicle speed and active school transportation was seen in Calgary.


A higher proportion of students used AST in Toronto compared with Calgary. During school travel times, almost half the vehicles exceeded the speed limit. Of serious concern, most vehicles in Toronto and almost half the vehicles in Calgary exceeded 30 km/h, representing unsafe environments for children. A higher proportion of vehicles travelled over 30 km/h in Toronto, compared with Calgary. Lowering speed limits to 30 km/h in all school zones during school hours may be an effective strategy to ensure safer environments for child pedestrians.


Findings from the study showed a significant inverse relationship between traffic speeds near schools and AST in Toronto. Reducing the posted speed limit around schools in Toronto, enforcing speed limits in each city and targeted built environment interventions at schools in both Calgary and Toronto may improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety and promote active school transportation by children.