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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-05-098
Date: July 2006

Lesson 7: Adapting Suburban Communities for Bicycle and Pedestrian Travel

Picture shows a boy walking to school. He is crossing in a wide crosswalk and carrying a book bag. Cars wait for him to pass.

Lesson Outline

  • Historical development of urban and suburban land use.
  • Costs of sprawl.
  • Retrofitting suburban roads to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians.
  • Safe Routes to School planning.
  • Retrofitting commercial/office developments.

Suburban Development

  • Streetcar suburbs.
  • Leapfrogging.
  • Auto orientation.
  • Infilling.
  • Street hierarchy.

Present Land Use Forms

  • Individual tract subdivisions.
  • Linear arterial streets.
  • Bypassed vacant land.

Suburban Street Scenes

The picture shows an extremely wide 2-lane road with a car driving toward the viewer. The street looks like it is wide enough to be a four lane road, but it is striped only with a centerline. The road looks like it is a place where speeding is a problem.

First picture shows a road with trees on one side and utility poles and guard rail on the other side. Pedestrians have worn a dirt path into the one foot wide strip between the guard rail that runs in front of the utility poles and the curb. A pedestrian is shown walking precariously on the path.

Second picture shows a wide urban arterial street in a strip shopping area. There are three lanes of traffic each direction with a center turning lane. The road is very wide, and two men are shown crossing the street, striding across the center turn lane.

First picture is of street in a suburban shopping area with fast-food restaurants and six lanes of traffic. There are two women with a baby stroller crossing mid-block. A car is stopped mid-turn waiting for them to cross.

The second picture is of a roadside town marker stating: " WELCOME, THIS IS GOD’S COUNTRY. PLEASE DON’T DRIVE THROUGH IT LIKE HELL. HONDO TEXAS."
The last picture is of a busy roadway with sidewalk that ends in the grass about 20 feet short of the entrance to an entrance ramp onto a freeway. There is no crosswalk.

Costs of Sprawl

  • Infrastructure: streets, utilities, parks and schools.
  • Environment.
  • Health and physical activity.

Retrofitting Suburban Arterials

  • Independent retrofit projects.
  • Evaluation of road widening projects.
  • Road diets.
  • Form-based codes.

Restriping to Create Bike Lanes

The picture shows a busy downtown street with cars parked at the curb, and a bicyclist riding in a bike lane between the parked cars and moving traffic. The overlay on the photo shows the width of lanes: "7’ Parking Lane, 5’ Bike Lane, 10’ Travel Lane" showing how striping could be changed to provide space for bicycling

Road Retrofit—Before

The picture is of a long, straight five lane road with a center turn lane. There are businesses along the road and traffic moves quickly. There is moderate traffic flow.

Road Retrofit—After

This picture is of the same road as the previous slide after improvements. The improvements include a sidewalk, bike lane and four lanes of traffic divided by a landscaped median.

Road Diet—Before

Picture shows an aging main street. There are wide sidewalks in front of shops. There are four wide traffic lanes as well as parking on both sides of the street. There are no trees or landscaping.

Road Diet—After

Picture shows the same street as the previous slide with improvements. There are now two travel lanes with on street parking. Bike lanes have been added. Left and right turn lanes have been added at intersections. The center lane is now a turn lane and has stripes running across it to deter travel in that lane.

Safe Routes to Schools (SR2S)

Three pictures are shown. All the pictures are of smiling children crossing at crosswalks.

Three pictures are shown. All the pictures are of smiling children crossing at crosswalks.

Three pictures are shown. All the pictures are of smiling children crossing at crosswalks. This picture shows children holding signs that read 'Safe Sidewalks' and 'Slow Speeds.'

Health Issues

Graphic showing chart with timeline that illustrates that in recent years, the percentage of children who make trips on foot has decreased, while overweight children have increased significantly. The caption reads: "35% of youth do not participate in regular physical activity."

35% of youth do not participate in regular physical activity.

Origins of the SR2S Concept

  • Denmark – early 1980s.
    – Worst child pedestrian crash rates in Europe.
    – In Odense, an 80% reduction in child crash rates in 10 years.
  • United Kingdom – Sustrans.
    – Demonstration program in 1995 (10 schools).
    – Traffic decrease of 12% to 17%.

Marin County, CA

  • One of two TEA-21 national models.
  • Combination of funding:
    – County transportation funds, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, several private foundations, Bicycle Coalition.
  • 21% of morning commute is school dropoff.
  • 9 pilot schools and 1,600 students in 2000.
  • 23 schools and 12,000 students participating in 2004.


  • 57% increase in children walking and biking.
  • 29% decrease in children arriving by car.
The picture shows 6 children holding up handmade signs with messages such as 'Kids Crossing', 'Be fit - Be healthy', 'Walk don't pollute' and 'Be cool, walk to school.'

Lesson Summary

  • Suburban development patterns have made it difficult to use nonmotorized transportation.
  • There are many ways to change this condition:
    Retrofits to existing facilities.
    New developments.



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