Healthy Spaces & Places Healthy Spaces & Places

Development Types

Schools - Full Text


Schools are located in most neighbourhoods in Australia and with appropriate design, siting and access they can support active lifestyles for children.  School buildings and grounds can also provide facilities for the broader community, where suitable. 

When identifying new sites or designing new schools, consideration should be given to the school being:

  • centrally located for the school catchment
  • on accessible and through streets but not heavily trafficked to minimise traffic congestion around the school
  • co-located with other community facilities (libraries and performing arts) to develop a focal point for the community
  • co-located and sharing playfields with public playfields,
and having
School Crossing
Safe crossing points at schools are important
Source: Pamela Miller Photographer
  • appropriate design of surrounding roads, and pedestrian and cycle networks to provide safe access routes to the school
  • where suitable and especially for secondary schools, links to public transport
  • bike storage facilities on site
  • adequate vehicular access and drop off and parking arrangements
  • adjoining land uses and resultant traffic generation that will be compatible with safety considerations for school aged children
  • access of the school facilities by the broader community to ensure active use after hours
  • overlooking and surveillance opportunities from adjoining uses, and
  • space for suitable playing fields and sports facilities within the school grounds.

When upgrading an established school site, many of the above considerations also apply.

Health & Planning Fact
The Australian Government recommends that children and young people should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day, to address the fact that one in five children is overweight or obese (Department of Health and Ageing, 2004). Walking to and from school will add on average 20 minutes of physical activity to a child’s day or one third of the recommended daily physical activity (van der Ploeg et al, 2007).

Active transport to and from school provides healthy options for students. A study undertaken in Sydney showed that between 1971 and 2003 the proportion of children that walk to and from school more than halved whilst the proportion of children taking the car has tripled (van der Ploeg, et al, 2007).

Walking to school can also have added benefits such as better health outcomes for parents and carers and increasing social interaction among the local and school community (Bauman, 2003).

Children are more likely to be active during play periods at school when there is access to sports equipment, permanent play structures, and marked courts such as basketball and hopscotch within the school ground (Davidson and Lawson, 2006).

Shared use (after hours) of the school facilities such as ovals and school halls allow better use of community resources and enhance social well being in the community.

Additional Health and Planning Facts related to walking and cycling to school:

Children are less likely to walk or cycle to school if:

  • there are no lights/crossings to use en route to school (Timperio et al, 2006; Hume et al, 2009)
  • parents perceive few other children in the neighbourhood (Timperio et al, 2006; Salmon et al, 2007)
  • there is a busy road barrier (eg. highway) or steep incline en route to school (Timperio et al, 2006), and
  • there is no direct route to school/too far to walk to school (Salmon et al, 2007).

Children are more likely to walk/cycle to school:

  • if the route to school is less than 800m (Timperio et al, 2006)
  • footpaths are present (Ewing et al, 2004), and
  • parents know many people in the neighbourhood (Hume et al, 2009).


The following design aspects can support the increase in the level of physical activity undertaken by
school age children and the opportunities for other users to use the school facilities:

Spatial Location

  • Encourage location within walking and cycling distance of most residences within the neighbourhood (ie, <800m).
  • Locate on a connector road with good accessibility for all forms of transport.
  • Support co-location of school sites with other land uses such as recreation areas, local shops, community services, sporting facilities and libraries to enable shared car and bike parking and more active centres.  Ensure that traffic generation will not impede the safety of the children.
  • Encourage co-location with public play fields to minimise duplication of playing fields in neighbourhoods and allow public open space to be used for other recreational activities distributed across the neighbourhood (cycling, walking and informal play).

Transport Network and Design

  • All bordering streets should be through streets to avoid congestion at drop off and pick up times.
  • IIn the wider neighbourhood provide pedestrian and cycle path networks connecting schools to residential areas.


  • Provide safe crossings of streets such as lights/crossings with attention to design elements such as signage and visibility and grade separated crossings on arterial roads.
  • Provide footpaths on streets surrounding schools.
  • Include speed limitations or street treatment to ensure there is a safe walking and cycling environment.

Public Transport

  • Locate public transport stops close to the school.
  • Ensure safe crossings from public transport stops and also appropriate shelter, lighting and signage for public transport users.
Safe footpaths connecting to schools
encourage walking and cycling
Source: Pamela Miller Photographer


  • Minimise car parking requirements through shared provision with adjacent land uses.
  • Ensure staff and student car parking is separated from parent pick up/drop off points and the main school entrance.


  • Provide end of trip facilities such as secure bicycle storage areas and shower facilities for students and teachers.

Non- school use

  • Promote the use of school facilities to other users, mindful of existing legal frameworks.
  • Ensure facilities are accessible and safe for after hours use.

On Site Facilities

  • On site school activity features provide an important opportunity for children to develop physical activity skills in a protected environment.  Access to sports equipment, playgrounds and ground markings both during and after school can have a broad range of benefits.
Childs Bike
Connecting paths and secure bicycle storage
can encourage cycling to school
Source: Pamela Miller Photographer



Click image for larger version
Source: TPG Town Planning and Urban Design


Good Practice

  • Encourage pedestrian and cycle path networks that safely access the school.
  • Encourage opportunities for parents to get to know other families in the neighbourhood. Safe crossing points at schools

Optimum Practice

  • Have public transport available with appropriate services, especially for senior schools.
  • Co-locate with complementary land uses.
  • Support maximum use of school facilities by other users.


  • Placing schools in locations with unsafe pedestrian, cycling or vehicular access such as busy roads or a busy road barrier (eg. a highway) en route to school.
  • Locating schools remote from the school student catchment so walking, cycling or public transport is not an option for most of the students.
  • Locating schools remote from public transport especially for secondary students.
  • Building a school in a location where children would be required to walk up a steep incline to get to school.
  • Prohibiting the community from use of the school, especially play fields, after hours.


Cole. R., Leslie, E., Donald, M., Cerin, E. and Owen, E., 2007, Health Promotion Journal of Australia, Vol.18 (2).

Davison, K. , Lawson, C. T., 2006, Do attributes in the physical environment influence children’s physical activity? A review of the literature. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Vol 3 (19).

Department of Health and Ageing, 2004, Australia’s Physical Activity Recommendations for Children and Youth

Ewing, R., Schroeer, W. and Greene, W., 2004, School location and student travel. Transportation Research Record 1895:55-63.

Hume, C., Timperio, A., Salmon, J., Carver, A., Giles-Corti, B. and Crawford, D., 2009, Walking and cycling to school. Predictors of increases among children and adolescents. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Vol 36(3), 195-200.

van der Ploeg, H. P., Merom, D., Corpuz, G., Bauman, A. E., 2008, ‘Trends in Australian children traveling to school 1971-2003: burning petrol or carbohydrates?’. Preventive Medicine 2008, 46:60–62.

Salmon, J., Salmon, L., Crawford, D., Hume, C. and Timperio, A., 2007, Associations among individual, social, and environmental barriers and children’s walking or cycling to school. American Journal of Health Promotion, Vol 21 (2).

Timperio, A., Ball, K., Salmon, J., Roberts, R., et al, 2006, Personal, family, social, and environmental correlates of active commuting to school. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Vol 30 (1), 45-51.

Last updated on 22nd June, 2009

Sponsors This project was funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.