New Report Highlights Biking and Walking in Rural America

By Carolyn S on January 31, 2012

imageA new report from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy dispels the commonly held notion that only residents of big cities bike and walk. According to “Active Transportation Beyond the Urban Centers” folks in rural areas travel by bike and on foot as much — and in some cases, even more — than people in major population centers.

“It’s a widespread assumption in popular media and politics that people in small towns and rural areas do not walk or bike for transportation purposes,” says Tracy Hadden Loh, co-author of the report and research manager at RTC. “This report demonstrates that, in fact, rates for walking and bicycling in rural areas are close to, and sometimes higher than, the national average.”

image Some key findings in the report include:

  • In terms of total trips, rural Americans bike at a rate of between 74 percent and 104 percent of the overall national rate, depending on the type of community in which they live.

  • The share of work trips made by bicycle in small towns is nearly double that of urban centers. Within small towns of 2,500 to 10,000 residents, people walk for work purposes at a rate similar to the urban core communities.

  • Federal investment in biking and walking benefits rural areas as much or more than urban centers. Rural areas receive almost twice as much funding per capita as urban areas from the federal Transportation Enhancements program

  • Among a list of travel priorities, rural Americans selected sidewalks more often than any other transportation need and nine out of 10 cited the importance of pedestrian friendly communities.

The report couldn’t come at a more pivotal moment. Congress is moving on the next federal transportation bill and the current House bill guts all funding for biking and walking projects and programs. This report proves that short-changing biking and walking by eliminating programs like Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School affects all communities across the U.S.

“Small communities need safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities just as much as big cities,” says Kevin Mills, report co-author and RTC’s VP of Policy and Trail Development. “To meet this need, Transportation Enhancements has provided twice the funding per capita in rural America than in big cities. This includes rehabilitating walkable main streets in small town that have been bypassed by interstates.”

According to RTC: “In coming years, active transportation can play an even bigger role in making small town America more attractive for young families and business investment — improving economic vitality, traffic safety and overall health in smaller communities in every region of the country.”

Read the full report and check out the interactive map here.

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