Factors Associated with Federal Transportation Funding for Local Pedestrian and Bicycle Programming and Facilities

Spurred by legislation to encourage walking and bicycling, the federal government has spent billions since 1992 on projects related to pedestrian and bicycle transportation, but the implementation of those projects has varied by region, population level, and socioeconomic factors, according to this first analysis of the patterns of such federal funding. This paper appears in a supplement to the Journal of Public Health Policy regarding the 2008 Active Living Research Conference.

The study relies on Federal Highway Administration data regarding federal spending on projects identified by states as related to pedestrians and bicycles. It examines that data by year, program type and location, and compares it to county demographic data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Key Findings:

  • From 1992 to 2004, the federal government obligated $3.17 billion to 10,012 bicycle- and pedestrian-related projects.
  • Almost 62 percent of U.S. counties hosted such a project.
  • 94 percent of projects improved facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians (such as replacing sidewalks or installing bicycle storage); 4 percent preserved abandoned railways, and 2 percent were safety or education programs.
  • Counties with persistent poverty and counties with low educational status (more than a quarter of adult residents lacked a high school diploma), were less likely to implement these projects. Poorly-educated counties also received less funding per capita than counties with higher educational attainment.
  • Counties in the Northeast were more likely to implement a project than those in the South or Central regions; however, per capita spending on projects was higher in the West.

The authors note the underlying federal data is subject to variations in how states identify projects; includes only federal, not total, funding on a project; and does not include adjustments for inflation. But they note the funding of pedestrian and bicycle projects (1.5%of all federal transportation funding) is out of balance with the use of nonmotorized transportation (9.4% of all trips nationally). They also note the funding of fewer projects in areas of poverty and low education, where public health is most problematic. The authors recommend making the links between transportation projects and public health more explicit, and improving planning assistance to underserved communities.