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Active Transportation Transforms America

The Case for Increased Public Investment in Walking and Biking Connectivity

American communities today are at a crossroads. For the past 70 years, the automobile has been the dominant mode of transportation and has received the lion’s share of federal and state transportation investment. Engineers have prioritized maximum car throughput and free-flowing speed or level of service as markers of transportation efficiency and success. Now, communities across America are looking for ways to strike a better balance so that residents might have more transportation choices and a higher quality of life. Multimodal transportation systems that prioritize human-centered mobility are in high demand.

by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC)


Activetransport 2019 report final reduced


Active transportation is transforming America. Its benefits are far-reaching and bring powerful outcomes to every type of community, including connecting people to jobs and other opportunities, creating opportunities for people to be physically active and outdoors, and revitalizing economies and communities.

A modest public investment in completing trail and active transportation networks within and between communities will deliver myriad benefits to individuals and society and an annual economic return to the tune of $73.8 billion. These benefits include access to safe and seamless walking and biking routes; improved health and social connectivity; new opportunities for economic growth; and access to jobs, education and culture. In the substantial scenario, economic benefits nearly double to more than $138.5 billion annually.

We have a unique opportunity to realize these benefits while addressing pressing issues related to public health and chronic disease, climate change, and economic development through the lens of transportation justice and social equity. As shown in this report, over half of all trips taken in the United States are suitable for a short bike ride, and more than one in four are suitable for a short walk, making walking and biking both realistic and feasible transportation options. Americans are demanding safe places to walk and bike on a broad scale. Re-prioritizing local, state and federal policies in response to that demand will deliver an outsized return on investment by changing how Americans get around and facilitating vital communities and healthy people.

Published October 2019

About the Author


Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people. RTC’s mission, and its value, is magnified in urban areas, where one mile of trail can completely redefine the livability of a community. Where trails are more than just recreational amenities, creating opportunities for active transportation and physical activity—improving our health and wellbeing—as they safely connect us to jobs, schools, businesses, parks, and cultural institutions in our own neighborhoods and beyond.

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