Pursuing Equity in Pedestrian and Bicycle Planning

The purpose of this paper, intended for transportation practitioners and decision-makers, is to define transportation equity-related terms in the context of planning for bicycle and pedestrian facilities and programs; synthesize and highlight recent research findings related to the travel needs of traditionally underserved populations and the role of pedestrian and bicycle planning in addressing equity concerns; and to share strategies, practices and resources to address bicycle and pedestrian planning inequities.

by Federal Highway Administration

Enhancing the ability of traditionally underserved populations to travel by nonmotorized modes can potentially lead to improved public health and safety outcomes. These outcomes include strengthened neighborhood ties, improved access to health care services, reduced exposure to vehicular collisions by nonmotorized travelers, and lowered health care costs (2, 3, 4). Expanding opportunities for nonmotorized travel strengthens workforces, and it improves economic productivity by providing better access to educational and employment opportunities and by improving access to and expanding customer bases for local businesses (2). Transit services are also improved as investments in pedestrian and bicycling facilities expand catchment areas, increasing the number of potential passengers with safe access to transit and the number of destinations accessible via transit (2, 3). These benefits are not limited to underserved communities. Creating a more equitable distribution of pedestrian and bicycle facilities and services has been shown to have positive impacts community-wide. Everyone, not just the estimated 30 percent of Americans who do not drive (2), is likely to experience some level of transportation disadvantage in their lifetime. Whether that disadvantage is temporary or permanent, and whether it arises via age, disability, loss of income, or the imposition of additional travel burdens, efforts to improve access to pedestrian and bicycle opportunities for today’s underserved populations are likely to provide a direct benefit to a large percentage of Americans at some point in their lives.

Transportation practitioners and those engaged in pedestrian- and bicycle-related efforts are uniquely positioned to lead, facilitate, advocate for, and contribute to improving transportation equity to better meet community members’ varying needs and abilities to access employment, education, and other opportunities safely and conveniently by walking or wheeling. By examining fundamental organizational practices and policies through the lens of equity, by seeking inclusivity and community integration, by leveraging data to identify concerns and opportunities, and by designing facilities that can be used by everyone, transportation professionals can promote equity both as a process and as an outcome. While transportation equity cannot be achieved through pedestrian and bicycle planning efforts done in isolation, equity goals and outcomes can be moved forward when equity is part of the overall policy and programming framework across all levels of decision-making.

About the Author


The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), part of the US Department of Transportation, provides expertise, resources, and information to improve the nation's highway system and its intermodal connections. The Federal-Aid Highway Program provides financial assistance to the States to construct and improve the National Highway System, other roads, bridges, and trails.

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