Sustainability of Biking & Walking

June 24, 2007

Written by KAI Interns Chava Kronenberg and Michael Houston

When talking about sustainable transportation, two of the most environmentally friendly ways of getting around are often overlooked. But, there has been a significant movement in the past two decades to encourage Americans to choose biking and walking over driving.

Biking and walking present several legitimate challenges to users, many large enough to prevent a great number of Americans from selecting these forms of transportation on a regular basis. These challenges include inclement weather conditions, the need to transport large or heavy items, increased travel time for long distances, lack of secure bike storage, lack of shower facilities at destinations, and inconvenient or unsafe routes.

Some biking and walking challenges will always be present, such as weather conditions and travel time; however, some challenges such as unsafe and inconvenient routes can be reduced or eliminated through well-designed transportation systems.

Activists have been working diligently to make these most sustainable forms of transportation a realistic possibility for many, emphasizing that sustainable transportation is not merely a need for modal equity, but an opportunity to improve lives and environments.

Convincing Americans to switch to biking or walking as a part of an active and environmentally conscientious lifestyle requires walkers and riders to be accommodated by the transportation system. It also requires educated citizens and support from the private sector.

Changed thinking is not limited to pedestrian/bike plans on the local and state levels, federal policy has begun to reflect the desire to create emission-free transportation opportunities. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and The Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century (TEA-21), passed in 1998, strengthened the ability for states and municipalities to allocate funds in many categories, providing the first opportunities to use highway funds for projects such as bike lanes and trails, bike racks for buses, bicycle parking, sidewalk and crosswalks, and traffic calming.

Moreover, TEA-21 acknowledged the needs of non-automotive users, requiring that all comprehensive plans give walkers and cyclists “due consideration,” implying that the needs of all transportation choices be considered when new infrastructure is created.

Along with the new infrastructure improvements allotted through federal and local government programs, education and improvements in the school and workplace environments may be a catalyst for significant mode change for students and employees.

Cycling and walking are often part of a city’s travel demand management program, a means of mitigating single vehicle occupancy in favor of other methods. Working hand-in-hand with the private sector has seen great success in changing travel behavior and may improve corporate bottom lines.

So what’s next? Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), passed in 2006, provides money to establish Safe Routes to School. This effort educates children and encourages them to use their feet or bikes to get to school, combating childhood obesity, encouraging environmental awareness, and emphasizing community development. The program encourages active living for both the health and safety of human welfare and our planet—creating mode change early on and ensuring a sustainable transportation future.

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