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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Popularity of walking, bicycling for transportation soars

Kaid Benfield

Posted June 21, 2010

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  Walk to Work Day in the UK (by: Living Streets, creative commons license)

The number of walking trips taken by Americans has more than doubled in the last 20 years, from 18 billion in 1990 to 42.5 billion in 2009, according to a new report.  The number of bicycling trips has also more than doubled, from 1.7 billion to 4 billion.  Perhaps even more significant, the share claimed by walking and bicycling of all trips taken by Americans (below left) has climbed by 50 percent, from a combined 7.9 percent to 11.9 percent.

On June 16, federal transportation secretary Ray LaHood announced the findings of The National Biking and Walking Study: a 15-year Status Report, undertaken by DOT’s Federal Highway Administration.  

  percentage of all trips made by bicycling & walking, 1990-2009 (data by FHWA, chart by me)  Bike Walk to Work Day in St Paul (by: Smart Trips, creative commons license)

On his blog, LaHood hailed the results and promised additional efforts to increase walking and bicycling in the US:

“I think the news is pretty good.  First and foremost, Americans are hitting the sidewalks and streets on foot and by pedal in record numbers . . .

“Americans want and need safe alternatives to driving. And by making biking and walking safer and more accessible, we’ll be able to provide Americans with more choices and help foster more active, more sustainable, and--yes--more livable communities.

“That's why we recently announced a policy change that encourages transportation agencies to go beyond minimum standards and provide safe and convenient facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists.”

  (graph by FHWA, USDOT)

In addition to presenting survey data, the report examines a range of efforts to increase bicycling and walking in the US.  Included in the review are programs at the federal, state, and local levels, along with case studies on best practices, and the report makes recommendations for research, policy, and other measures that can be taken to meet increase walking and bicycling for everyday transportation.  In addition, the report includes safety statistics, which also show improvement.

The new findings are consistent with a wide range of data showing that, over the last decade or so, sprawl has been declining, central cities are growing again after years of decline, per capita rates of driving have slowed, and transit share has increased, among other trends.  We must keep our eyes on the prize, but we are on the right path.  The announcement also underscores the commitment of Secretary LaHood who, along with HUD Secretary Donovan, has become a true leader for sustainability in the current administration.

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Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page. 

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Ray YuJun 21 2010 10:26 AM

Wow! It’s nice to see that people are taking an environmental and health initiative to commute by walking or biking. It would be interesting to see the reason for the increase. Nevertheless, this is good to hear and will hopefully continue to catch on with more people. What’s even better news is that the Obama administration recently plans to double its funding for bicycling and walking projects. I think that we are definitely on the right track! Thought I’d like to share: People can actually benefit from pre-tax savings each month if they commute to work by bike, and they can use the money saved towards bike repairs and accessories. A friend and I learned about this at!

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