Monday 29 March 2010

The state of walking and cycling in the USA

"Over one-third of the U.S. population is under age 16 (cannot legally drive) or over age 65. Streets designed just to move cars are leaving behind the most vulnerable road users, often making them prisoners in their homes or completely reliant on others to drive them around. Less than half of states and major U.S. cities have adopted complete streets policies that require that roadways be designed and built with all users in mind." - So says the Alliance for Biking and Walking 2010 Benchmarking Report.

Cycling rates correlate well with rates of investment in cycling, not only within the USA, but also internationally. The success of the Netherlands has come due to investing in the needed facilities - and the facilities really are needed:

"States with the lowest levels of biking and walking have, on average, the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. In contrast states with the highest levels of biking and walking have, on average, the lowest rates of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. In addition, where rates of biking and walking are greater, more of the adult population is likely to achieve the 150 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity aerobic activity recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to CDC, physical activity can reduce your risk of dying early from the leading causes of death, like heart disease and some cancers."

2015 update
Progress is only possible with continued funding. Sadly, the Cycling Embassy of Denmark reports that funding for cycling in Denmark has been cut. There is no country on earth which can expect cycling to grow organically without support and that includes Denmark and the Netherlands.

The graph shows comparative figures for several cities giving an indication of how funding of cycling is linked to the resulting modal share. Amsterdam spends $39 per person per year and has a 35% modal share, Copenhagen spends $13 and achieves a 20% modal share, Berlin spends $6 for a 10% modal share, Portland spends #3.50 for a 4% modal share, the USA as a whole spends $1.50 for a 1% modal share (cycling and walking combined). Thanks to The Fietsberaad for the pointer to this report


  1. I haven't seen exact numbers, but I know Andres Duany (New Urbanist proponent) usually says about 50% of all Americans is either too young, too old or too poor to drive a car.

    That means half of the US population is structurally disenfranchised by their government.

  2. The idea that communities WOULDN'T be designed with walking and cycling at their heart seems tragic to say the least, that we've arrived at this status quo unchecked is even sadder.

    Let's hope stats like those in your blog post will help to convince those who think that the automobile should be at the heart of urban design to the contrary.

    Great post David!

  3. One of the reasons the Amish in our area don't drive is to maintain the community. You can't be a part of a community if you have to ride your horse and buggy more than 1/2 hour.

    Cars have allowed us to expand our "communities" because we can travel so far in a half hour or hour or more. And since we've been driving cars for so long, cars have changed our communities also by allowing us to live far apart from our neighbors, and thus, we no longer have to rely on our neighbors.

    One thing I really like about your blog, David, is the sense of community you seem to have captured that many of us in the US would like to see again. If only we knew how...

  4. The sad thing for me is that Portland is the most cycling friendly city in the states, and would just be well, below average in the E.U.

  5. Tony: Not all the E.U. is the same. Britain's expenditure on cycling and cycling rate are both about the same as the US.

    There is a very direct link between expenditure and results. This holds within the Netherlands too. Groningen, Assen, and many other places, would appear above Amsterdam in that graph.

    Of course, at times like this it is difficult to get anyone to spend money. However, the message to get across is that expenditure on cycling is cheaper than the alternative - i.e. of not spending the money. It always pays off in terms of health, as well as reducing the overall cost of providing roads.

    Dutch cycle paths are in part a fiscal measure.