Official US Government Icon

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure Site Icon

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Active Transportation

kids on bikes by a beach

Image source:  NHTSA

Relationship to public health

Almost one in four adults in the United States report that they do not engage in any physical activity outside of their jobs. Sedentary lifestyles are an important reason that two of every three adults in the United States are overweight or obese.

How can transportation agencies support active transportation?

Transportation agencies and their partners can create opportunities for people to exercise for recreation and to build physical activity into their daily routine. Agencies can do that by reducing distances between key destinations and providing and improving bicycle and pedestrian facilities. More people might then bicycle or walk to work, shops, and services.

Improving public transportation services produces similar results. Although public transportation is not typically defined as active transportation, studies have shown a higher level of physical activity among public transportation riders. This is because every public transportation trip is a multi-modal trip. Most people who use public transportation walk to or from stops and stations or make other trips by foot during the course of their day.

Transportation agencies can also support projects that enhance mixed-use neighborhoods where different destinations are within walking distance of one another. For example, improved public transportation service can foster new development near a stop or station that already has a variety of housing, jobs, shops, and services.

Benefits of active transportation

Investing in public transportation and bicycle and pedestrian facilities creates opportunities for people to exercise. This helps reduce obesity and the risks for developing costly chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Active transportation facilities are particularly important in low-income and minority communities, or communities with high percentages of new immigrants. People in those communities are less likely to own vehicles, and unsafe streets might pose a barrier to using active transportation.

Related indicators in the THT

Commute mode share describes the percentage of workers who travel to work via active transportation modes, such as public transportation, walking, or bicycling.

Person miles traveled by mode describes the relative distance people travel using active transportation and other modes.

Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita provides a measure of how much the average person drives. Lower VMT per capita can indicate that active transportation is a feasible alternative to driving.

Physical activity from transportation describes the percentage of trips by residents that include at least 10 minutes of active transportation.

Land use mix describes whether a community has a variety of different destinations available within walking distance. Diverse local land uses allow residents to make more trips by walking or bicycling.

Use of federal funds for bicycle and pedestrian efforts describes the extent to which transportation agencies are using discretionary federal funding to create or improve active transportation facilities.

Complete streets policies describe policies adopted to create streets that accommodate cyclists, pedestrians, and public transportation riders, along with motor vehicles.

Public transportation trips per capita describes how often the average person rides public transportation. Because people often walk to and from public transportation, regular public transportation riders are more likely to meet physical activity guidelines.


Federal Transit Administration
The Federal Transit Administration’s “Livable and Sustainable Communities” website provides information on integrating bicycle and pedestrian projects with public transportation and funding opportunities. It includes examples and references. It also lists resources for locating housing near public transportation and transit-oriented development.
National Complete Streets Coalition Policy Atlas
The National Complete Streets Coalition Policy Atlas inventories complete streets policies across the United States. It has an interactive mapping tool that shows the location of jurisdictions with these policies. The atlas includes detailed information on how policies are adopted and implemented and analyses of the strength of various policies.
EPA Smart Location Database
The Smart Location Database includes neighborhood-level data on many factors related to active transportation, such as density, land use mix, and intersection density.

Research Studies

Travel and the Built Environment: A Meta-Analysis

This article describes how factors in the built environment, including access to public transportation and intersection density, affect rates of public transportation use and walking.

Ewing R, Cervero R. 2010. Travel and the built environment: a meta-analysis. Journal of the American Planning Association 76(3):265-294.

Understanding the Relationship Between Public Health and the Built Environment: A Report Prepared for the LEED-ND Core Committee

This report summarizes research on how active transportation and public transportation use improve health. It describes the different ways in which the built environment can affect physical activity.

Ewing R, Kreutzer R. 2006. Understanding the relationship between public health and the built environment: a report prepared for the LEED-ND Core Committee.

The Planning Perspective on Health: Community Health as a Goal of Good Design

This report summarizes research on the health impacts of different transportation modes. It also describes how planning decisions impact health through transportation behavior.

ChangeLab Solutions. The planning perspective on health: community health as a goal of good design.

Walking and Cycling in the United States, 2001–2009: Evidence from the National Household Travel Surveys

This report describes current trends in active transportation by mode and trip purpose for several different population subgroups. It also discusses the implications for transportation planning and policy.

Pucher J, Buehler R, Merom D, Bauman A. Walking and cycling in the United States, 2001–2009: evidence from the National Household Travel Surveys. American Journal of Public Health 2011;101(S1):S310-S317.

Walking and Cycling to Health: A Comparative Analysis of City, State, and International Data

This report analyzes transportation and health data from different locations to identify the relationship between active travel and rates of physical activity, obesity, and diabetes.

Pucher J, Buehler R, Bassett D, Dannenberg L. Walking and cycling to health: a comparative analysis of city, state, and international data. American Journal of Public Health 2010;100(10):1986-1992.

Neighborhood-Based Differences in Physical Activity: An Environment Scale Evaluation

The authors examine the relationship between neighborhood environment, physical activity, and the number of overweight residents by comparing surveys and accelerometer data from a walkable and non-walkable neighborhood.

Saelens B, Sallis J, Black J, Chen D. Neighborhood-based differences in physical activity: an environment scale evaluation. American Journal of Public Health 2003;93(9):1552-1558.

Walking, Bicycling, and Urban Landscapes: Evidence From the San Francisco Bay Area

This report uses travel survey data to evaluate the effect that aspects of the transportation system and built environment have on walking and bicycling trips.

Cervero R, Duncan M. Walking, bicycling, and urban landscapes: evidence from the San Francisco Bay Area. American Journal of Public Health 2003;93(9):1478-1483.