Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
Public Health

America Builds Too Many Schools By Highways

3:00 PM EST on February 21, 2017

One in 11 U.S. public schools are within 500 feet of a highway, exposing 4.4 million children to elevated levels of pollution, according to a new investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Attending school by a highway puts kids at elevated risk of developing asthma. In addition, there's evidence that pollutants from traffic interfere with cognitive development and may play a role in autism.

America's system of school siting is not getting better, either. In the last school year, one in five newly constructed schools were near highways, the investigation found. (The exception is California, which banned the placement of schools within 500 feet of a highway in 2003.)

The Center for Public Integrity's Jamie Smith Hopkins cited two factors that explain the pattern: School districts are attracted to cheap land by highways, and the dangers road pollution poses to children are not widely understood by parents.

Siting schools on cheap land near highways also makes them unwalkable, which compels parents to drive children to school, compounding traffic and air quality problems.

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership notes that 27 states impose "acreage standards" that require minimum lot sizes for new schools, fueling the search for cheap land. (Since 2003, South Carolina, Rhode Island, and Maine have all jettisoned these acreage requirements.)

The U.S. EPA recommends school districts favor sites away from major roads [PDF], as long as it does not lead to a major increase in the distance children have to travel to reach school.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

Serious Crash in Greenpoint Again Reveals Flaws in City Design, Enforcement Against Reckless Drivers

A woman was seriously injured — and is clinging to life — because a driver with a long record of recklessness slammed into her on a Greenpoint Street as she came home with milk.

February 22, 2024

POWER PLAY: City Moves to Put Thousands More E-Car Chargers on the Sidewalk

We should stop and think before giving over curbside space to car drivers, a mistake the city made in the 1950s.

February 22, 2024

Bill to Cut Vehicle Miles in New York Would Also Reduce Traffic Deaths, Costs and Pollution

"As this data makes clear, a new approach will not only protect our climate, but also make New York a safer, more affordable place to live," said state Sen. Andrew Gounardes.

February 22, 2024

Thursday’s Headlines: Celebrate What’s Good About Our City Edition

It's now less than one week til the annual "Public Space Awards" on Thursday. Get your tickets now. Plus other news.

February 22, 2024

Underhill Ave. Still In Limbo Two Weeks After Mayor Promised Decision in ‘A Day Or So’

The mayor's perception of time differs from that of mere mortals, but he did say on Feb. 5 that he would decide "in a day or so." It's been two weeks.

February 21, 2024
See all posts