A new study from the Alliance for Biking and Walking focusing on the 50 states and the 51 largest U.S. cities finds increases in the percentages of Americans walking and bicycling to work and improvements in overall safety, and underscores economic and health benefits. However, it finds disproportions in risks to pedestrians and cyclists, and in funding for projects related to active transportation.

The study, Bicycling and Walking in the United States: 2012 Benchmarking Report, highlights progress and benefits as well as challenges in encouraging people in the U.S. to walk and ride bicycles. Last conducted in 2010, it presents a trove of data, plus models of success from around the world, for use by policymakers, advocacy organizations and others interested in promoting sustainable transportation in local communities. The survey arrives as Congress is considering the next federal transportation bill, which designates how billions of federal tax dollars will be allocated.

Growth, Plus Benefits to Economy and Health

The survey finds that between 2006 and 2009, the percentage of people who commute by bicycle or on foot increased from 2.9 to 3.4 percent. However, while the survey reveals that 12 percent of U.S. trips are by bike or foot, 14 percent of traffic fatalities are among bicyclists and pedestrians. At the same time, pedestrian and bicycle projects get less than 2 percent of federal transportation dollars.

The report also points to the job-creation value of projects that support walking and bicycling: these provide at least three dollars of benefit for every dollar invested. In addition, it summarizes health benefits of bicycling and walking: states with the highest rates of bicycling and walking also tend to have the lowest rates of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

“The wide range of environmental, social and economic benefits of walking and bicycling, so clearly documented in this report, justify greatly increased investment in facilities and programs to encourage more walking and cycling, and to improve the safety of these most sustainable of all transportation modes,” said John Pucher, a professor at Rutgers University, in a statement.

Focus on major cities

Major cities are a key focus of the study as urban density and short trip distances offer greater potential for increasing active transportation. Residents of major U.S. cities are 1.7 times more likely to walk or bicycle to work than the national average, according to the survey.

In addition to bicycling and walking levels and safety, key benchmarking indicators considered in the study include federal funding, policy, education and advocacy. Among major cities, NYC ranks:

  • 5th in combined bicycling and walking levels, behind Boston, Washington, DC, San Francisco and Seattle. 10.3 percent of people walk to work, .7 ride bicycles.
  • 7th in safety in combined bicycling and walking fatalities;  5th in safety among pedestrians, 29th in cycling safety.
  • 17th in existing bicycling facilities.
  • 11th in growth in bicycling facilities from 2009 – 2011.
  • Federal funds obligated to bicycling and pedestrian projects in 2006 – 2009 amounted to $288,483. Per capita spending on bicycling and pedestrian projects: .03 cents.

Among Key Findings:

  • Automobile reliance: In 2009, 40 percent of trips in the U.S. were shorter than 2 miles, yet 87 percent of these trips are by car. Twenty-seven percent of trips were shorter than 1 mile. Nonetheless, Americans use their cars for 62 percent of these trips.
  • Biking levels: Nationally, the number of bicycle commuters increased steadily between 1990 and 2009. Bicycle commuter share grew from 0.4 percent in 1990 to 0.6 percent in 2009.
  • Bicycling demographics: While bicycling is distributed evenly among all income levels and fairly evenly distributed with respect to ethnicity, gender disparity continues in cycling. According to the study, 76 percent of bicycle trips were made by males and 24 percent by females. Seniors are among the most vulnerable. This age group accounts for 6 percent of bicycling trips, but 10 percent of bicyclist fatalities.
  • Jobs: Bicycling and walking projects create 11-14 jobs per $1 million spent, compared to just 7 jobs created per $1 million spent on highway projects. Cost benefit analysis show that up to $11.80 in benefits can be gained for every $1 invested in bicycling and walking, according to the report.
  • Infrastructure: Cities report that 20,908 miles of bicycle facilities and 7,079 miles of pedestrian facilities are planned for the coming years.

The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with additional support from AARP and Planet Bike. The Alliance, founded in 1996, is a coalition of 200 grassroots state and local bicycle and pedestrian organizations working to promote bicycling and walking in the U.S.

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