Transportation, Land Use, and Community Design

We must be intentional in the design and development of our communities to make it easier for people to be active on a daily basis. Equitable design of communities and transportation systems can make walking and biking both safe and enjoyable, provide housing that is conducive to healthy lifestyles with affordable transportation options, and offer ample space for active recreation. Other co-benefits include increasing access to essential destinations, such as grocery stores, schools, jobs and healthcare services; improving quality of life and access to economic opportunity; improving air quality and decreasing energy consumption; and strengthening social networks. 

Policy and program actions in this sector have great potential to improve people’s lives. For example, effective land use policies put common destinations near where people live, with ample safe and accessible places for active recreation, preferably all with walking and biking connections. Land use and zoning decisions do as much to reinforce active behavior as transportation investments, keeping in mind that some policies need to be changed to support the diversity of communities and the changing fabric of the demographics.

High-quality pedestrian and bicycle facilities can make it possible, safe, and enjoyable to walk and bicycle for transportation. Design that supports walking and biking also promotes the use of public transportation because it improves access to the transit station or bus stop; and it supports communities of color, people with disabilities and communities with lower socioeconomic status, all of whom need transportation options that are affordable and safe.

At a fine-grain level, the characteristics of transportation networks (e.g., the width of trails and street crossings) along with the aesthetics of buildings, layout of parks, and the design of landscaping are all important elements that, when combined with decisions on a larger scale, enhance opportunities for the greatest number of people to be active.

Fortunately, the demand for such places is growing steadily and the need for these places is growing as well. A 2014 TransitCenter survey of nearly 12,000 individuals in regions across the country found that regardless of where they live now, most people would like to live in places where amenities (a mix of shops, services, schools, and offices) are within walking distance, regardless of urban, suburban, or rural setting.1 More than 600 local and state ordinances for Complete Streets guidelines direct transportation engineers’ efforts to balance all modes on our streets.2 With diminished federal funding, localities are passing local ballot measures to increase funds for transit investment, including provisions for transit connectivity, essentially the biking and walking legs of transit trips.3

Support by local, state, and national leaders is also growing. The National League of Cities and the First Ladies Let’s Move! initiative joined forces to promote “Let’s Move Cities and Towns,” which is embraced across the nation. People are driving less: vehicle miles traveled have plateaued since 2008 and continue to plateau in spite of the slow upturn in the economy.4 In addition, opportunity exists to convert short trips, as 41% of all trips taken in the U.S. are three miles or less and nearly 19% are one mile or less.5 Yet, nearly 60% of trips one mile are driven.6

The Transportation, Land Use and Community Design Sector of the National Physical Activity Plan has developed strategies that focus on: 1) integrating active design principles into community planning process, 2) changing zoning laws to favor mixed use developments that encourage physical activity, 3) advocating for funding and policies that increase active transportation, 4) investing in data collection to inform policy, and 5) implementing initiatives to encourage and reward more active transportation. Equity is a principle that permeates the recommendations in this section, for we must make decisions and create conditions that enable all people to have better and safer environments conducive for improved health, access to jobs and other benefits.

Immediate and near-term changes to improve access and support active transportation networks will require many strong multi-sectoral partnerships and collaborations that represent, at a minimum, the sectors/disciplines within the National Physical Activity Plan. This collaborative work can be guided by the strategies in this section.


Community planners should integrate active design principles into land-use, transportation, community, and economic development planning processes. (TLC-1) [View Tactics]

Communities should change zoning laws to require or favor mixed-use developments that place common destinations within walking and bicycling distance of most residents and incorporate designated open space suitable for physical activity. (TLC-2) [View Tactics]

Physical activity and public health organizations should advocate for funding and policies that increase active transportation and physical activity through greater investment in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and transit. (TLC-3) [View Tactics]

Transportation and public health agencies should invest in and institutionalize the collection of data to inform policy and to measure the impacts of active transportation on physical activity, population health, and health equity. (TLC-4) [View Tactics]

Transportation and public health agencies should implement initiatives to encourage, reward, and require more walking, bicycling, and transit use for routine transportation. (TLC-5) [View Tactics]