The Meaning of Livable Streets to Schoolchildren: An Image Mapping Study of the Effects of Traffic on Children's Cognitive Development of Spatial Knowledge

While much focus has been placed on the physical activity and environmental benefits of providing safe and livable streets for children, few studies look at the mental health and cognitive development benefits from lowering children’s exposure to threats from traffic. In response, this study uses innovative cognitive mapping methods through a series of focus-group interviews with nine and ten-year schoolchildren to uncover important ways traffic exposure limits children’s cognitive development of their spatial knowledge. To test for these effects, this study focuses on schoolchildren in two similar suburban neighborhoods and schools in suburbs in the San Francisco Bay Area, but differing in the volume and speed of traffic the students are exposed to during their journeys to and from school. The Cognitive mapping exercises and methods used in this research reveal multi-dimensional effects, including how exposure to traffic, as determined by volume, speed, and the adequacy of walking and bicycling infrastructure, limits children’s progression along a cognitive development continuum of spatial knowledge. Specifically, the results show that without adequate pedestrian and bicycle facilities to provide sanctuary from automobile traffic, children are overcome by the negative senses of danger and dislike, commensurate with a limited ability to identify qualities of their neighborhood that are memorable, special, or even positive. In contrast, this study finds that children allowed to have higher levels of interaction with the environment, through independent, active travel modes improve their spatial knowledge development. By making neighborhood streets safe, comfortable, and livable, this research establishes some key psychological cognitive benefits associated with lowering a child’s exposure to automobile traffic by providing adequate pedestrian and bicycle Safe Routes to School (SR2S) infrastructure.


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  • Accession Number: 01641281
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Jul 19 2017 3:43PM