In a recent study, transportation professor Bruce Appelyard selected two suburban areas: the first had high amounts of traffic and was not conducive to children walking or biking through their neighborhood; the other had light traffic, and children regularly rode their bikes and walked in the neighborhood.
In his study, Appleyard utilized a cognitive mapping technique that involved asking 9 to 10 year olds to draw maps of their neighborhood. They were instructed to include their friends’ houses, their school, and areas they preferred or had an aversion to. According to the Atlantic Cities article, Appleyard determined that the children that resided in high traffic neighborhoods often expressed disdain or the feeling that they were in danger in multiple areas of their neighborhood; they did not detail these areas in their drawings. The children that lived in lighter traffic neighborhoods were more likely to draw additional details in specific areas and had an increased awareness of their surroundings. Appleyard concluded that children living in lower traffic areas have a greater ability to make connections with his or her neighborhood.
According to the article, 71% of parents surveyed had walked or bicycled to school growing up, yet only 18% of their children participate in the same activity. In his original study, Appleyard notes that by 2001 the Federal Highway Administration had recorded 85% of 5 to 15 year olds were driven to school by a parent or bus driver. He notes that living in higher traffic neighborhoods resulted in an increase in parents driving their children around, therefore increasing the traffic within their neighborhoods.
Some of the high traffic neighborhoods received pedestrian and biking renovations once the study had concluded. When Appleyard followed up with the children from these neighborhoods, there were noticeable improvements in their detail recognition and demeanor. Many of the children could detail maps and seemed happier with their neighborhoods.