Designing for Active Transportation

Physical inactivity causes numerous physical and mental health problems, is responsible for an estimated 200,000 deaths per year, and contributes to the obesity epidemic. The design of our cities, neighborhoods, and transportation systems often discourage walking, bicycling, or other activities that would help more Americans reach the recommended 30 minutes each day of moderately intense physical activity. Health professionals, planners and policy-makers want to know how to design neighborhoods and workplaces that make it easier for people to get up and get active.

This research summary gives a synopsis of the current state of peer-reviewed research into what makes a community “walkable” or “bikeable,” so people can get physical activity as part of their daily routine—what is known as active living. Companion research summaries outline findings on the environments that encourage people to be active in their leisure time, and on the environmental influences on childhood obesity.

The research shows clearly that people walk and bicycle more in neighborhoods that have mixed use, higher density, connected streets and pedestrian facilities. A January 2005 joint report of the Transportation Research Board and Institute of Medicine also concluded "the available empirical evidence shows a linkage between the built environment and physical activity." Current research is exploring the details of walkable design and the impact on young people, older adults, people with lower incomes, and those with disabilities. While the studies conducted to date have limitations, the consistency of the findings indicate that designing communities for active living is a promising avenue for increasing physical activity.