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Promoting Connectivity

A well-connected transportation network reduces the distances traveled to reach destinations, increases the options for routes of travel, and can facilitate walking and bicycling. Well-connected, multimodal networks are characterized by seamless bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, direct routing, accessibility, few dead-ends, and few physical barriers. Increased levels of connectivity are associated with higher levels of physical activity from transportation. Connectivity via transportation networks can also improve health by increasing access to health care, goods and services, etc. Strategies to improve pedestrian and bicycle connectivity include

  • Short block lengths
  • Implementation of a Complete Streets policy
  • Bicycle/pedestrian outlets for cul-de-sacs and dead ends
  • Prioritization of multimodal access to public transportation
  • Safe and visible bicycle and pedestrian facilities (Oregon DOT 2010)

Related Transportation and Heath Tool Indicators

How can this strategy result in health benefits?

  • Address chronic disease (e.g., asthma, diabetes, heart disease)
  • Improve access to health-supportive resources
  • Improve equity
  • Increase physical activity
  • Improve safety
  • Reduce motor vehicle-related injuries and fatalities
  • Reduce transportation's contribution to air pollution

How has this worked in practice?

Tucson Region Sidewalk Inventory

The Tucson, Arizona, region's metropolitan planning organization, Pima Association of Governments (PAG), began to develop a regional sidewalk inventory in the mid-1990s to assess regional sidewalk connectivity and accessibility to establish priorities for funding and construction. Arizona has been designated as a Pedestrian Safety Focus State by FHWA because the state has had a higher-than-average pedestrian fatality rate. PAG has undertaken various planning efforts to address pedestrian safety, comfort, and accessibility in the region. An update to the regional sidewalk inventory was completed in 2005 to further address accessibility for persons with disabilities. The 2005 Tucson Region Sidewalk Inventory assessed sidewalks and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) access along all major roadways in the region. The inventory identified needs and established a ranking process to prioritize and schedule projects. Population density, average daily traffic, public transportation route ridership, and proximity to business districts, school, parks, and medical facilities were the main criteria used in the ranking system. Local jurisdictional staff, pedestrian planners, and people with disabilities provided input. The list of high-priority projects from the study were considered in developing the pedestrian element of the 2006 20-year Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) plan, which allocated $30 million to sidewalks, ramps and signalized crosswalks. Local jurisdictions within the region, including the City of Tucson, have used the inventory to focus on addressing gaps in the pedestrian network and to complete pedestrian projects using RTA funds. In 2012, PAG coordinated with the City of Tucson Department of Transportation to prepare an ADA Sidewalk Inventory Study Report to further explore the ADA accessibility of sidewalks on the major roadways in Pima County. PAG is currently developing a Regional Pedestrian Plan that will establish updated pedestrian priorities to improve the pedestrian environment in the region.

City of Fairmont, WV Health Impact Assessment on Connectivity Plan

In early 2014, Fairmont, West Virginia, developed a connectivity plan to facilitate travel in and around the city. The West Virginia University Health Research Center received a grant to conduct a rapid health impact assessment (HIA) of the potential health impacts of the connectivity plan. In addition to neighborhood analyses as a part of the HIA, the team solicited input from three community sources: parents of children in local schools, members of the community living within the city limits, and Fairmont State University students, faculty, and staff. Some of the suggested improvements gathered from the input included improving or building new sidewalks, pathways, or bicycle lanes; improving intersection safety; reducing crime; and improving terrain barriers (e.g., stairs, bridges). The HIA determined that a combination of engineering, encouragement, and enforcement activities would be most effective in improving travel and the public’s health in Fairmont. Through the HIA, public health ultimately was integrated as a factor in prioritizing future projects in the city’s connectivity plan.

Where can I learn more?

Promoting Active Transportation is one of CDC’s Transportation Recommendations. Recommendations include providing safe pedestrian and bicycling connections to public transportation, public park and recreation areas, and other destinations that support health.

The Partnership for Prevention’s report, Transportation and Health: Policy Interventions for Safer, Healthier People and Communities, recommends providing better connectivity for pedestrians and bicyclists and encourages strategies such as block size limits.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Congestion-Toolbox Road Connectivity site provides an overview of potential benefits and links to model ordinances, research, and performance measures.

The University of Minnesota (UMN) Accessibility Observatory focuses on the research and application of accessibility-based transportation system evaluation.

The U.S. EPA Smart Location Database is an online mapping tool and free nationwide geospatial data resource for measuring location efficiency and the built environment.

The Built Environment and Public Health Clearinghouse offers resources and news on community design and health.

Evidence base

Berrigan D, Pickle LW, Dill J. Associations between street connectivity and active transportation. International Journal of Health Geographics 2010;9:20.

Bodea TD, Garrow LA, Meyer MD, Ross CL. Socio-demographic and built environment influences on the odds of being overweight or obese: The Atlanta experience. Transportation Research Part A: Policy & Practice 2009;43(4):430–444.

City of Tucson Department of Transportation. ADA Sidewalk Inventory Study Report; 2012.

Dill J. Measuring Network Connectivity for Bicycling and Walking. Presented at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, Washington, DC; 2004.

Ewing R, Schmid T, Killingsworth R, Zlot A, Raudenbush S. Relationship between urban sprawl and physical activity, obesity, and morbidity. American Journal of Health Promotion 2003;18:47-57.

Frank LD, Andresen MA, Schmid TL. Obesity relationships with community design, physical activity, and time spent in cars. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2004;27(2):87-96.

Frank LD, Schmid TL, Sallis JF, Chapman J, Saelens BE. Linking objectively measured physical activity with objectively measured urban form: findings from SMARTRAQ. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2005;28(2S2):117-125.

Morency P, Gauvin L, Plante C, Fournier M, Morency C. Neighborhood Social Inequalities in Road Traffic Injuries: The Influence of Traffic Volume and Road Design. American Journal of Public Health 2012;102(6):1112-1119.

Oregon Department of Transportation. Strategy Report: Bicycle and Pedestrian Connectivity. Oregon Sustainable Transportation Initiative; 2010.

Transportation Research Board. Mobilizing Connectivity: Applying Connectivity Tools in the Arterial Planning Process. Accession Number: 01138998; 2014.

Turley BM. Mobilizing Connectivity: Applying Connectivity Tools in the Arterial Planning Process. Presented at the 11th National Conference on Transportation Planning for Small and Medium-Sized Communities. Transportation Research Board and Federal Highway Administration; 2008.

Wilson LA, Giles-Corti B, Burton NW, Giskes K, Haynes M, Turrell G. The association between objectively measured neighborhood features and walking in middle-aged adults. American Journal of Health Promotion 2011;25(4):e12-21.