Tag: active transportation

man in red sweater riding a bike with a backpack

Overcoming Barriers to Active Transportation

Active transportation has important environmental, health and economic benefits. Promoting active modes of transportation including walking, cycling and wheelchair or stroller rolling, can increase physical activity, benefit both individuals and communities economically and play a role reducing air pollution.

In some areas, active transportation can replace motor vehicle use entirely. More commonly, though, physical activity can be combined with cars or public transportation to replace parts of trips. However, participation in active transportation varies widely among urban, suburban and rural communities. This disparity has much to do with personal, environmental and cultural barriers that interfere with the adoption of active transportation. Encouraging people to utilize active modes of transportation requires that we identify and address these barriers.

One barrier to active transportation is the availability of resources and infrastructure in the community to make it realistic. For example, the American Fitness Index includes Walk Score, which is based on how well errands and activities can be completed on foot as opposed to needing a car. Large cities tend to have a higher walk score than smaller cities that are less dense and not as likely to have access to sidewalks, bike lanes and public transportation.

Other factors that influence the decision to walk and bike include the accessibility and conditions of sidewalks, bike lanes, multi-use trails and forms of public transportation. Also, the availability of bicycle parking and storage and a place to change clothes and shower after commuting are important potential barriers. Having access to these resources can make the decision to walk or bicycle for transportation easier.

Another barrier to active transportation is safety, both real and perceived. The infrastructure and culture in some cities make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists, so pedestrian fatalities are lower, and individuals and families are more likely to be active. Communities that lack sidewalks, bike lanes, safe street crossings and adequate lighting would certainly have lower participation in active transportation. Additionally, since there is “safety in numbers,” places where walking and bicycling are more common tend to be safer because motorists are more aware of their presence. When cyclists and pedestrians are less visible, drivers may not be as cautious, making safety more of a concern.

The community culture can be a barrier to active transportation. In places where active transportation and using public transit are the norm, people are more likely to leave their car at home and walk or bicycle to work or for leisure trips. Unfortunately, many people find that their community does not support active transportation, either through a lack of infrastructure or through the attitudes of the citizens. Relatively few people would begin or maintain a habit of active transportation when it isn’t widely accepted and supported through community norms or policies.

Personal factors can also be a limit factor. An individual’s belief in the health, environmental and economic benefits can influence their decision to participate in active transportation. The perceived additional time to walk or bike rather than drive is also a barrier, but it is interesting to note that most people overestimate the time required for active travel. A person’s fitness and ability to travel longer distances on foot or on a bicycle can also be a concern, especially if the commute includes hills. Combining walking with public transit for longer trips or using an electric-assist bicycle can reduce the intensity and make it more enjoyable. While active transportation is almost always less expensive than driving a car, the cost of a bicycle and other equipment may limit some from getting started. Bike sharing and financial incentives for purchasing a bicycle may reduce this concern. Finally, the weather can be an important consideration. Hot, cold or rainy climates can reasonably limit active transportation, especially when considering professional attire.

Many of these barriers can be overcome through education about the benefits of active travel, the availability of infrastructure, resources to support walking and cycling and tips to make active transportation safer and more comfortable. Advocating for changes in policies and the built environment can be effective as a grass-roots effort. Educating drivers, pedestrians and cyclists about traffic rules and safety can help change the culture. And making public transit, walking and cycling more visible through community “open streets” events can raise awareness and normalize active transportation. Ultimately, expanding access to active transportation can make communities more equitable, healthy and economically sound.


Author: Brian B. Parr, Ph.D., FACSM, ACSM-CEP, University of South Carolina Aiken

active transportation op-ed template blog

Advocate for Active Transportation in Your Community | Op-ed Template

A key step in increasing active transportation habits and avenues  in your community is working to increase awareness of the economical, personal health and environmental benefits of walking and biking. Submitting an op-ed to your local newspaper, magazine or television station can be a productive way to spread the word about these benefits.

The American Fitness Index and ACSM’s ActivEarth Task Force have partnered to supply an op-ed template that you can use to generate or renew interest in active transportation methods in your community. The template can be easily customized for your local community.  Click here to download the template!  

Include stats from the Fitness Index Rankings report  in your op-ed.

Want to learn more about supporting active transportation? Check out more ActivEarth resources here.

active transportation

Active Transportation Choices May Affect Your Wallet and Waistline

It is not surprising that having healthy habits, like walking every day, is one way to fight the holiday bulge. But did you know that it can also keep a little extra padding in your pocketbook? As colder weather sets in many of us look forward to a fun and festive holiday season. This busy time of year and its blustery winter weather can also mean that some of our summertime activities and active transportation habits become a distant memory. Add to that the surplus of heart-warming treats and holiday beverages, and it’s easy to see why so many of us set resolutions to lose weight and exercise more when January 1st rolls around.

Active transportation is known as a solid way to get active, which can save on health care costs. Active transportation typically means walking or biking to get from place to place, but can also include using public transportation, where the active component is getting to and from stations or stops. An example of this comes from Toronto, Canada. Estimates from proposed improvements to the region’s transportation system would increase transit use by 7.8 percent. When these people switch from cars to transit, it’s projected to prevent 338 deaths, 1,000 cases of diabetes, and $1.67 billion USD ($2.2 billion CA) in annual health savings. It’s noteworthy that not all of these savings are from increased physical activity, as factors such as emissions reductions and reduced traffic fatalities were included in the estimates, but who’s going to scoff at those added benefits?

Of course, transitioning to walking places or taking public transit when you’re not doing so already isn’t easy. This is likely because of 60-plus years of development across the American landscape that prioritized sprawling, disconnected suburbs. Add to that an American culture with a deep fondness for car ownership and personal travel, and it takes planning and motivation to make active transportation a part of your daily routine. However, these changes are comfortable when a city builds activity-supportive environments.

For over 10 years, the American Fitness Index has monitored transportation systems and activity-supportive environments as key influencers of community fitness. This report evaluates the healthiness of cities – including several measures of active transportation. The percent of a city’s inhabitants who walk, bike or use public transportation to get to work, and the city’s average Walk Score – which measures how walking-friendly an area is for daily errands – are critical components of the overall Fitness Index rankings.

The Fitness Index aims to help public officials, concerned citizens, local community groups and health organizations assess the essential aspects of their city’s overall health and quality of life. While you plan to dig out the winter wardrobe, take some time to motivate yourself to walk, bike or even take public transit on your next outing, not only to fight that holiday bulge, but maybe save a little extra money for the holiday gift fund.


Author: Jane C. Hurley