Active Transportation Models
This model is useful for communities interested in investing in infrastructure to support walking,
biking, roller blading, and other forms of non-vehicular physical activity. Active transportation, or
any kind of
human-powered transportation, is an inexpensive, accessible way for residents to get exercise,
explore their communities, run errands, and commute to work or school. In some rural communities, walking and
biking for transportation is almost as common as in cities, and 37% of trips taken
by rural residents are less than 3 miles.
Dedicated infrastructure for biking and walking, including protected bike lanes and pedestrian
crosswalks, is important for ensuring the physical safety of rural residents. Fatalities and injuries
resulting from collisions with vehicles are
higher for bicyclists in rural areas than in urban ones.
Examples of Programs that Promote Active Transportation
In the late 19th Century, the U.S. railroad industry built thousands of miles of rail for cargo
and passenger transportation. Since then, many routes have been abandoned, particularly those that pass
through rural communities. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
supports local and state agencies interested in converting these corridors to paved or unpaved multi-use
recreation pathways. Rural communities with rail-trail systems can benefit from increased tourism, increased
property values, and lower crime
around the rail corridor. These investments also provide additional opportunities for residents to enjoy
their natural surroundings. States with large rural populations like West
Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska have built successful rail-trail systems.
Children who live in rural areas may face barriers to safely
walking or biking to school. The National Center for Safe
Routes to School supports communities that want to encourage active transportation to reduce child
obesity, decrease traffic congestion near schools, and increase community connectedness. As of 2011, 41%
of Safe Routes to School grants went to small towns and rural areas. There is evidence
that Safe Routes to Schools increases
County, Wisconsin was 1 of 4 communities selected for the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot
Program, a federal program that provided a $25 million grant to promote, improve, and evaluate
walking and bicycling infrastructure.
County, North Carolina developed the Granville
Greenway system to improve walkability in an area where residents have relied solely on motor
vehicle transportation. Since there is no public transit infrastructure in the county, the Greenway system
has transformed old trail lines into paved pathways for pedestrians to walk and bike around the community.
Considerations for Implementation
While rumble strips can be an effective safety feature to reduce off-road incidents for vehicles, rumble strips
can make it difficult, uncomfortable, and dangerous for bicyclists to ride along a road shoulder. Bicyclists may
then be forced to ride in the lane, increasing the likelihood of a collision with a vehicle. The League of
American Bicyclists provides
specific guidance on how to maximize the benefit of rumble strips for both vehicles and bicycles.
Resources to Learn More
Active Transportation Beyond
Urban Centers: Walking and Bicycling in Small Towns and Rural America
This report discusses the economic, social, and public health benefits for rural and small towns that
invest in active transportation infrastructure. It provides information for local activists or
organizations interested in building a business case to support their work, including examples of
success from other rural communities.
Organization(s): Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
The League of American Bicyclists: Tools and
The League of American Bicyclists, through their Bicycle Friendly America program, provides guidance
to communities interested in promoting bicycle use. The League grades states, communities,
businesses, and universities (both urban and rural) on the bicycle-friendliness of their
infrastructure and policies and provides suggestions on how to improve.
Organization(s): The League of American Bicyclists
Safe Routes to School
National Partnership: Rural Resources
The Safe Routes to School National Partnership published four fact sheets and a toolkit specific to
rural concerns about successes and challenges that provide examples of programs that have supported
Organization(s): Safe Routes to School National Partnership
Town and Rural Multimodal Networks
This report and design resource is written for community transportation planners interested in
promoting safe, accessible active transportation options. It describes how to apply national
guidelines to rural settings, including case studies and detailed implementation notes.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration
Transportation and Health Tool
This tool links to sources for data on transportation and health indicators, suggests strategies for
improving transportation and health-related outcomes, and information about the relationship between
transportation and health.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Transportation, Centers for Disease Control and
Transportation Health Impact
This toolkit provides a framework for transportation stakeholders to approach transportation plans and projects.
Provides information on conducting a health impact assessment to demonstrate potential health benefits of
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Using Active Transportation
and Context Sensitive Solutions to Enhance Livability in Rural Communities and Small Towns
Webinar discussing strategies for improving livability and connectivity in rural communities using
Organization(s): Federal Highway Administration