Promoting Active School Travel by Making it Cool: a quasi-experimental study using Boltage

Yizhao Yang, University of Oregon


  • Lynn Weigand, Portland State University
  • Ihab Elzeyadi, University of Oregon
  • Noreen McDonald, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • William Harbaugh (consultant), University of Oregon


Research on children's school travel suggests two sets of factors critically affect the use of active school commuting modes (i.e., walking or biking) among children. The first involves external factors, such as trip distance, neighborhood walkability, general safety, and parents' employment schedule, that can help explain parents' choice of school travel modes. The second factor is more internal, focusing on parents' and children's attitude to and motivation/preference for walking or biking to school. While studies have helped us understand how environmental conditions that families face today (e.g., long home-school distance and poor walkability) serve as barriers to children's active travel school, there has been limited research yet done to shed light on what motivates parents and children to use active school travel. In a recent comprehensive review of existing literature, Sirard and Slater (2008) pointed out that prominent psychological constructs such as attitudes, expectancies/beliefs, and social norms have not been explored sufficiently in school travel research. Interventions, implemented through Safe Route To School (SRTS) programs aimed at encouraging more children walking or biking to school, have not benefited from a good understanding of which kinds of strategies work best for motivating students to walk or bike to school and sustaining the desired behavior.
The proposed project aims at filling the gaps in research and practice by investigating how social learning can be used to increase the rates of children walking or biking to school, and to use knowledge gained to inform and refine elements of SRTS programs. It will use a novel device called "Boltage" to conduct a quasi-experimental study. Boltage takes advantage of scanning technology to track a student's school trips by active transportation modes. It uses "incentives that are designed to make biking and walking cool, and gives kids a way to belong to something great" ( With its capacity to constantly collect travel data and raise the visibility of active school travel behavior through incentives, the Boltage program provides a great research setting/tool for us to examine peer effects in school travel-mode choice. 

The quasi-experimental design involves installing a Boltage unit at one elementary school in Portland and at one middle-school in Corvallis;then comparing student school travel behavioral changes before, during, and after the Boltage installation and program implementation. For each of the study schools, we will also examine changes in school travel behavior at a matched school in the same study period. To assess this intervention's long-term effects on habit formation, we will study a middle school in Eugene where Boltage has been implemented for two years. Essentially, the proposed project uses a research design that will allow both with-in subject (pre- and post-intervention comparison) and between-subject assessments (comparison between study population and control population).

This project will employ mixed-methodology in data collection and analysis. The quantitative research component involves obtaining student school travel information via various methods (mail-in parent surveys, in-class tallies, and Boltage reports), conducting statistical analysis to compare the rates of children walking or biking to school before and after Boltage implementation, assessing the varying rate-changes for children in different age groups and of different backgrounds, and evaluating effects on travel behavior change produced by different incentives (material, experiential, vs. recognition incentives). The qualitative research component involves focus group study (pre- and post-Boltage) to gain insights into how social learning works for parents and students and how children and parents differ in their decision-making processes. 
The proposed project builds on a synergy of 4 on-going or recently-completed projects that focus on children's school travel. The research team members (six PIs, one consultant) bring valuable experience and resources that will assure the accomplishment of this project. The results produced from this project will have significant impact on research and practice. This project will contribute to school-travel literature by expanding current research to include new perspectives (e.g., the social learning perspective and children's decision-making process). It will also add to research methodology by providing a comparison of measures and data collected through multiple approaches and integrating qualitative and quantitative analyses in a quasi-experimental research framework. The reports and documents will provide valuable and practical information to SRTS program administrators and advocates.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
In Progress
End Date:
March 31,2013
UTC Grant Cycle:
OTREC 2012
UTC Funding:

Other Products

  • Yizhao Yang/ What motivate students to walk or bike to school: a case study using a Boltage program experiment (PRESENTATION)
  • Yizhao Yang/ Understanding Active School Commuting using Boltage experiment (PRESENTATION)