Safe Routes to Parks

Improving Access to Parks through Walkability

Adults living within a half mile of a park visit parks and exercise more often, but according to the 2014 State Indicator Report on Physical Activity, less than 38 percent of the U.S. population lives within a half mile of a park.

by National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA)

Public parks provide highly valued benefits in America’s local communities. Some of these benefits include but are not limited to economic viability, environmental conservation and improved health outcomes. Adults living within a half mile of a park visit parks and exercise more often, but according to the 2014 State Indicator Report on Physical Activity, less than 38 percent of the U.S. population lives within a half mile of a park. More safe and convenient places are needed for Americans to be physically active in their communities. People who are unable to walk to parks are deprived of the opportunity to engage in two instances of physical activity — walking to the park site and participating in activities at the site Given evidence that access to parks increases one’s level of physical activity, parks are an important destination that should be easily accessible to all citizens. Consequently, the key to ensuring accessibility to parks is through creating safe routes to parks within communities. When citizens have the resources to safely walk to parks, every trip taken by foot is an opportunity to engage in physical activity. Nevertheless, there are several physical and social barriers that make walking to parks undesirable, such as proximity to parks, lack of infrastructure, crime and traffic safety concerns. These barriers are a result of engineering, zoning, land use and design trends that have existed in the United States for the past 50 years. Breaking down these barriers requires a shift in the transportation system paradigm from mobility to accessibility.

Given the high prevalence of obesity and chronic diseases in the United States, parks have proven to be affordable locations for physical activity because they are located in most communities around the nation. Empirical evidence demonstrates that people who reside in communities with safe, active transit to parks are more likely to be physically active than their counterparts. Although these findings are encouraging, we are faced with a challenge that needs further attention - that is, most neighborhoods are not appropriately connected to parks via pedestrian paths. This presents difficulty for people to easily access parks without motorized transportation. People are more likely to walk to parks if their communities are better connected to parks by active transit routes.

The purpose of this report is to understand the obstacles limiting walkability to parks and identify the essential elements of a safe route to a park. Additionally, this report assesses the barriers to walkability, determines the key stakeholders responsible for creating safe routes to parks, identifies strategies on building awareness on the importance of walkability, and recognizes current initiatives on improving safe routes to parks.

About the Author


National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) is the leading non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of public parks, recreation and conservation.

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