Active Transportation Transforms America - Rails to Trails Conservancy

October 17, 2019

 

More than half of all trips in the United States are within a 20-minute bike ride or less, and more than one in four trips are within a 20-minute walk or less, according to the 2017 National Household Travel Survey. Even so, the majority of these short trips are taken by automobile.

 

Across rural, suburban and urban America, there are opportunities to shift short trips from driving to walking and biking by creating safe active-transportation networks. In the process, this mode shift can create remarkable economic returns and improve the quality of lives; in fact, the findings of this report reveal that the potential annual return on investment of connected active-transportation infrastructure could be as high as $73 billion+ in a modest scenario and $138 billion+ in a substantial scenario. Mode shift leads to fewer cars and light trucks on clogged roads, as well as less air and climate pollution, while also creating a transportation environment that favors physical activity.

 

Accelerating Mode Shift 

 

Increased walking and biking, for both utilitarian travel and recreation, are among the most effective ways to address America’s crisis of physical inactivity. This crisis is a major factor in high and rising rates of chronic diseases that cost the U.S. health-care system trillions of dollars each year, with many of those costs falling to taxpayers.

 

Business leaders looking for ways to attract employees and grow their enterprises, and local leaders aiming to increase tax revenue, support trail and active transportation networks—infrastructure proven to attract talented workers and tourists. Leaders in rural mining and industrial towns that have lost employers and population are reinventing themselves as trail towns or recreational hot spots.

 

In short, the United States is facing a plethora of pressing issues that affect its citizens’ quality of life—and wallets. The good news is that relatively small investments in walking and bicycling can help address these problems. Active transportation—that is, walking, biking, rolling or other means of mobility powered by human energy—can be a powerful part, albeit just one part, of the solution to address fossil fuel consumption, reduce health-care costs via physical activity, and contribute to the economic well-being of local communities and individuals. However, to encourage more walking and biking, safe and protected facilities that seamlessly connect to each other must be built.

 

Just as roads take a car from one’s driveway to a local street, then to an arterial street, and eventually onto the highway, which connects to more arterial and local streets, the opportunity exists to build a connected network of active transportation facilities that will allow anybody to make that 20-minute trip by walking or biking.

 

In a connected network, anyone from the ages of 8 to 80 years old is able to navigate his or her community using safe walking and biking infrastructure. For example, the person would have direct access to a sidewalk at the start of the trip and when approaching an intersection. That intersection has a highly visible, well-painted crosswalk, which this person can use to cross the street and turn onto the main four-lane road.

 

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