Skip to contentUnited States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration FHWA Home
Research Home
Public Roads
Featuring developments in Federal highway policies, programs, and research and technology.
This magazine is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information.
Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 58 · No. 2 > Making More Modes

Autumn 1994
Vol. 58 · No. 2

Making More Modes

Bicycling and Walking Can Be

Feasible Transportation Choices:

This article is adapted from The National Bicycling and Walking Study Final Report, Transportation Choices for a Changing America (Federal Highway Administration Publication No. FHWA-PD-94-023), remarks delivered by Federal Highway Administrator Rodney E. Slater on April 22, 1994, and other material provided by the Federal Highway Administration.

Several national surveys confirm that bicycling and walking are popular activities among Americans of all ages. An estimated 131 million Americans regularly bicycle or walk for exercise, sport, recreation, or simply for relaxation and enjoyment of the outdoors. However, as modes of transportation, bicycling and walking have not yet realized their potential.

That's why Congress, through the 1991 U.S. Department of Transportation Appropriations Act, directed the Secretary of Transportation to conduct a national study to determine current levels of bicycling and walking, determine why they are not better used as means of transportation, develop a plan for increased use and enhanced safety of these modes, and identify the resources necessary to implement and achieve this plan.

On April 22, 1994, in conjunction with Earth Day ceremonies, Secretary of Transportation Federico Peña sent the The National Bicycling and Walking Study Final Report, Transportation Choices for a Changing America to Congress. The report establishes goals and action plans to work toward a more balanced, multimodal transportation system in which individuals can enjoy the widest possible range of travel choices for particular trips.

 Rodney E. Slater (left) and Christopher Hart (right) walk to Capitol to deliver a copy of The National Bicycling and Walking Study. Rodney E. Slater (left) and Christopher Hart (right) walk to Capitol to deliver a copy of The National Bicycling and Walking Study.

The study presents two national goals:

  • To double the percentage of all transportation trips made by bicycling and walking from 7.9 percent to 15.8 percent.
  • To reduce by 10 percent the number of injuries and fatalities sustained by bicyclists and pedestrians in transportation crashes.

According to the 1990 Nationwide Personal Transportation Study (NPTS), 7.2 percent of all travel trips are currently made by walking, and 0.7 percent by bicycling. The new national goal would double the combined percentage to 15.8 percent.

Federal Highway Administrator Rodney E. Slater, in remarks made during the ceremony in which the report was presented to Congress, put these goals in perspective:

"What do these goals mean? First, on the average, an individual makes 20 transportation trips a week. We are asking that person to increase the number of trips made by bicycle and walking -- instead of driving his or her car -- from about 1.5 to 3 trips. You could easily do that by biking or walking for occasional trips to get a quart of milk, going out for ice cream, or to purchase a newspaper. Second, currently, about 180,000 people are injured in bicycle or pedestrian crashes with automobiles, and nearly 7,500 are killed each year. This is not acceptable."

On behalf of the secretary of transportation, Slater and Acting National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Christopher Hart walked from the Department of Transportation (DOT) Building to the Capitol to deliver the report. They were accompanied by numerous DOT employees and escorted by police bicycle squads from the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. The bicycling and pedestrian contingent was met at the Capitol by U.S. Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, DFL-Minn., chairman of the House Budget Committee and sponsor of the legislation that called for the national study.

Administrators Slater and Hart present the National Bicycling and Walking Study to U.S. Representative Sabo of Minnesota.

Administrators Slater and Hart present the National Bicycling and Walking Study to U.S. Representative Sabo of Minnesota.

Slater pointed out that walking the report to Capitol Hill and the bicycling patrolmen illustrated how walking and bicycling "can be used not only for the recreational purposes we commonly associate with these modes but also for routine transportation purposes. In addition, increasing the use and safety of bicycling and walking in America can reduce health costs and provide an improved environment for all of us."

Research has shown that even low-to-moderate levels of exercise, such as regular bicycling or walking, can result in significant benefits to the health and physical fitness of participating individuals.

Also, replacing automobile trips with nonmotorized and nonpolluting bicycling or walking trips would yield significant environmental benefits. According to Plan B, The Comprehensive State Bicycle Plan for Minnesota, public savings from reduced pollution, oil import, and congestion costs alone have been estimated at between five and 22 cents for every mile (1.6 kilometers) by automobile displaced by bicycling or walking. Increased use of these nonmotorized transportation modes can help urban areas reduce their levels of ozone and carbon monoxide to meet air quality standards required under the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.

Efforts to facilitate bicycling and walking can also result in more general transportation benefits besides offering additional travel options for those who are unable to drive or who choose not to drive for all or some trips. Roadway improvements to accommodate bicycles, such as the addition of paved shoulders, have been shown to reduce the frequency of certain types of motor vehicle crashes. Urban area congestion can be reduced. Measures to reduce vehicle speeds, which can encourage greater pedestrian activity in residential or downtown shopping and business areas, also impact positively on motor vehicle safety. Greenways along waterways, railway lines, or other public rights-of-way yield recreational, educational, environmental, and aesthetic benefits in addition to providing corridors for walking and bicycling. A general enhancement of the "livability" of our cities parallels a truly intermodal transportation system in which bicycling and walking are valuable components.

If survey results are any indication, the public strongly supports bicycling and walking. In a Harris Poll conducted in 1991, 5 percent of respondents currently walk or bicycle as their primary means of transportation, 2.5 times this number would prefer to meet their transportation needs by walking or bicycling if better facilities were available.

The poll also showed that 46 percent of adults, ages 18 and older -- 82 million Americans -- had ridden a bicycle in the previous year. Of these:

  • 46 percent stated they would sometimes commute to work by bicycle if safe bicycle lanes were available.
  • 53 percent would if they had safe, separate designated paths on which to ride.
  • 45 percent would if their workplace had showers, lockers, and secure bicycle storage.
  • 47 percent would if their employer offered financial or other incentives.

Similarly, 59 percent of the respondents reported that they would walk or would walk more if there were safe, designated paths or walkways.

Survey results may overestimate actual behavior, but they do indicate areas to be addressed.

The potential for increased bicycling and walking for transportation does exist. Concerns over weather and the carrying capacities of bicyclists and walkers have been expressed, but proper clothing and equipment address some of these concerns. And although distance and its companion factor, time, are frequently cited as reasons for not bicycling or walking, data from NPTS show that more than a quarter of all travel trips are one mile (1.6 kilometers) or less, 40 percent are two miles (3.2 kilometers) or less, almost half are three miles (5 kilometers) or less, and two-thirds are five miles (8 kilometers) or less. Moreover, 53 percent of all people nationwide live less than two miles (3.2 kilometers) from the closest public transportation route, making a multimodal bicycle- or walk-transit trip an attractive possibility.

Since these short-distance, "cold start" motor vehicle trips generate significant pollution, improved bicyclist and pedestrian access to transit can also reap environmental benefits. A Chicago area transportation study in 1980 found bike-and-ride to be by far the most cost-effective means of reducing hydrocarbon emissions. Results of recent studies indicate that if only 0.5 percent -- one of every 200 workers -- living less than two miles (3.2 kilometers) from a transit route and currently commuting by automobile used bike-and-ride travel, nationwide gasoline savings would be 20 to 50 million gallons (75 to 190 million liters) annually.

While much potential remains unrealized, the bicycle-transit link is gaining momentum. For example, in Phoenix, Ariz., the first major city to use bus bicycle racks systemwide, there are an estimated 13,000 bicyclist boardings per month, and in the first three months of the Tri-Met program in Portland, Ore., more than 700 bicyclists bought permits to allow them to take their bicycles on buses and light rail.

Although it may not always be possible to replace commuting to work by automobile with commuting via bicycle or walking, only 21 percent of all trips involve travel to or from work. Thus, there are many opportunities to bicycle or walk for errands, shopping, visiting friends, and other purposes.

To realize this potential, changes to make bicycling and walking more viable and attractive transportation options must take place. The "four E's" -- engineering, education, enforcement, and encouragement -- must each be individually optimized as well as coordinated into a cohesive promotional strategy.

The study sets the following action plan for the federal government:

  • Fully integrate consideration of bicycling and pedestrian needs into policies, planning, design, operations, and evaluation.
  • Provide funding for a bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure that includes facilities, education, and enforcement programs.
  • Conduct promotional and awareness activities.
  • Disseminate technical information.
  • Develop and implement training programs.
  • Carry out activities to increase the safety of bicycling and walking.
  • Provide outreach efforts for public/private partnerships.
  • Conduct research and develop effective means of technology transfer.
  • Serve as a positive national presence and role model.

Photos of trails used exclusively for walking and bicycling.

Government support for bicycling and walking is demonstrated in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA). Federal-aid funding is available from a number of ISTEA programs. Planning requirements for bicycling and walking are established for states and metropolitan planning organizations. Other provisions of ISTEA include the requirements that states establish and fund a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator in their departments of transportation and that bicyclist and pedestrian safety continue as priority areas for highway safety program funding.

To assist in implementing the study's recommendations, DOT is establishing an Interagency Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force, consisting of staff representatives of other Cabinet-level departments with responsibilities relating to bicycling and walking. In addition, the task force will coordinate other federal efforts to promote the use and safety of bicycling and walking as modes of transportation and recreation.

At the Capitol ceremony, Slater announced that John Fegan was selected to serve as the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Program manager for DOT. (Fegan's telephone number is (202) 366-5007.)

"State and local governments will be encouraged to organize bicycle and pedestrian programs; plan and construct facilities; promote bicycling and walking; educate bicyclists, pedestrians, and the public; and enforce laws and regulations," Slater said.

There is no mandate to establish a coordinator at the local level; however, eight of the top 10 cities for bicycling as rated in Bicycling magazine have bicycling program coordinators.

Today's emphasis on bicycling facilities focuses on providing a combination of ample road space to safely accommodate bicyclists and motorists side by side as well as providing separate multi-use trails exclusively for nonmotorized use. Road space for bicyclists takes the form of marked bicycle lanes, wider outside lanes, and paved shoulders. Space for pedestrians includes facilities such as sidewalks, grade-separated crossings such as overpasses and underpasses, and pedestrian malls.

But facilities include more than pavement and space. Bicycle parking, pedestrian crossing signals, curb cuts and ramps, adequate lighting, and showers at work are just some of the other items needed.

States and local areas where successful bicycling and walking programs are in place are characterized by a higher level of integration of bicyclist and pedestrian needs throughout the programs, policies, and procedures of various government agencies. This integration, also known as institutionalization, results in comprehensive programs with stable funding and bicycling- and walking-compatible environments.

Using this criteria, Minnesota, Florida, North Carolina, and Oregon have successful programs. At the local level, Seattle, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; Boulder, Colo.; Palo Alto, Calif.; and Davis, Calif., are considered among the best cities in the United States for bicycling and walking. The programs of these cities and several foreign cities, such as Groningen in The Netherlands and Osaka in Japan, provide a guiding vision and a wealth of practical experience on which to draw in developing comprehensive, long-term action plans.

Implementation of these plans will make it easier for many Americans to walk or ride a bicycle as part of everyday life. They may walk or bike to a carpool, bus, or train as part of a new intermodal trip pattern, or they may find that they can walk or bike with safety and ease all the way to their destination. Many will find that they do not have to use a motor vehicle for trips to church, work, school, or the store. This is the vision -- to create a changed transportation system that offers not only choices among travel modes for specific trips but, more importantly, presents these options so that they are real choices that meet the needs of individuals and society as a whole. Making this vision a reality must begin now!

ResearchFHWA
FHWA
United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration