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Active Transportation for America


Half of the trips taken in the U.S. can be completed in a 20-minute bike ride and a quarter of trips can be completed in a 20-minute walk. However, the vast majority, 78 percent, of these short trips are made by automobile due to the highly inefficient transportation system in America. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy created this report to quantify the economic benefits of increased walking and bicycling and emphasize the need for better investments in pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure. The analysis done for this report concludes that modest increases in bicycling and walking in cities across the country could lead to an annual reduction of 70 billion miles of automobile traffic. This report is a call to action for a truly multi-modal transportation policy that recognizes that driving is not always the quickest, easiest, or cheapest way to get around.

Key Points

When asked how they would allocate transportation funding, Americans reported they would spend about 22 percent of transportation funding on biking and walking infrastructure – nearly 15 times what is currently spent. People want and need more transportation options. Not only will multiple mobility options make the transportation system more efficient but it will help to combat the growing obesity epidemic and reduce the oil dependency in the U.S.

Further, communities built for bicycling and walking promote a richer and denser mix of residences and businesses, leading to shorter trip distances for all. This report provides examples of communities that have, or plan to invest in, infrastructure that will accommodate walking and biking. It also provides examples of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure that can be used by communities all over the country.

Other report highlights include:

  1. Marin County, California is a pioneer in the federal Safe Routes to School program. The area increased its investment in educating the community on the benefits of active transport and pedestrian infrastructure. As a result, Marin County nearly doubled the percentage of children walking or biking to school in the first two years of its program.
  2. As a way to show the community that driving is not always the quickest or most convenient mode of transportation, the Sneakers, Spokes and Sparkplugs Challenge in Billings, Montana pitted bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers against one another in completing a list of tasks around Billings. Bicyclists won the challenge, with pedestrians often finishing before car drivers. This popular event, coupled with other efforts in the community, led to the passing of a general obligation bond that called for local funds to match federal funds invested in trails for walking and biking.

How to Use

Community planners, local officials, and active transport advocates can use this report to gain an understanding of the economic and health benefits that come with improved pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. The report provides sound evidence of the many benefits of safe and accessible active transportation like reduced CO2 emissions and oil dependency, as well as increased physical activity for community residents. The analysis provided throughout the report can be used by planners and local officials to convey the importance of investing in walking and biking infrastructure to community members.

View full report: Active Transportation for America (PDF – 5.2 MB)

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