The Regional Response to Federal Funding for Bicycle and Pedestrian Projects

Today fewer than half of U.S. children and adolescents get the recommended daily hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, and nearly one-third of young people are overweight or obese. Walking and biking for transportation can help people be more active overall, and transportation investments which make that easier are an important strategy for increasing physical activity and promoting health among all Americans.

Two new resources by Active Living Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, examine the relationship between investments in active transportation, physical activity and obesity rates, and the extent to which regions across the country are making such investments.

Making the Link from Transportation to Physical Activity and Obesity summarizes the most up-to-date research regarding how transportation investments encourage healthful activity. The brief details how increasing access to public transportation, making streets and sidewalks safer, and developing trails and bike lanes affect people’s health and how much they bike and walk for transportation. Findings from the research brief include:

  • Public transit use is linked with higher levels of physical activity and lower rates of obesity.
  • Walking or biking to school can help kids be more active overall.
  • Sidewalks and bike lanes promote physical activity.
  • Multi-use trails are associated with increases in walking and biking, especially in urban areas and among lower-income populations.
  • Traffic-calming and safety measures protect residents and facilitate walking and bicycling.

The Regional Response to Federal Funding for Bicycle and Pedestrian Projects examines how and to what extent regions across the country have used federal transportation funding to improve pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. The report documents a wide variation in regional spending: among the 50 largest metropolitan areas, the five top-spending regions invested almost seven times as much per capita as the five lowest spenders. Case studies from Sacramento, Calif., and Baltimore, Md., show that use of federal funds for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is more likely to occur in places with stronger regional control over federal funds, dedicated bicycle and pedestrian staff, and access to federal air quality funds. Key recommendations in the report include:

  • The federal government should ensure local governments are able to measure the air-quality benefits of non-motorized projects to qualify for air-quality funding.
  • Metropolitan planning organizations should be given more control over spending of federal transportation dollars, and should consider developing investment programs aimed at achieving specific outcomes, instead of dividing funding by mode.

Together, the new resources offer recommendations for improving funding and implementation strategies related to active transportation and provide guidance on which types of changes are likely to be most effective in increasing rates of physical activity and improving residents’ health.

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