Report: Active Transportation Is a Priority for Rural Areas, Too

By Dave Garlock, 1000 Friends Communication Intern

There is a common misconception that only residents of big cities bike and walk, and therefore active transportation investments are not well-suited to rural areas. A new report from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy tells a different story.  

As the report, entitled Active Transportation Beyond the Urban Centers, describes, people in rural areas walk and bike at rates near and in some places even higher than the national average, and infrastructure for walking and biking helps these communities greatly in numerous ways.

At 1000 Friends of Oregon, we also believe that all Oregon communities, whether they are rural or urban, benefit from active transportation investments and infrastructure. This is a key component of what we call Cool Communities: livable places where people have a variety of transportation choices to get around. We think Oregon’s small towns and big cities can and should both be Cool Communities.

The report rejects a binary urban-rural divide, pointing out that there are different types of rural communities, just as there are different types of urban ones. Examples are the isolated rural countryside and the small rural cores of towns.

People in some kinds of rural communities walk and bike to work almost as much as residents of cities and inner suburbs, the report finds. And residents in most categories of rural communities walk more as a percentage of total trips than people living in outlying suburbs.

Not only do rural Americans walk and bike more often than many realize, surveys have shown they also highly value infrastructure that supports these activities. More than nine out of ten rural Americans rate pedestrian-friendly communities as important, and three out of four value bike lanes.

Building infrastructure for biking and walking in rural communities is a bargain, according to the report.  It costs a fraction of roads to build, creates jobs, and improves health. Plus, it makes helps make rural communities more attractive to young families and small businesses, ensuring a stronger future for these communities.

As the report concludes:

Rural America today is facing many challenges. Active transportation is a creative, cost-effective, simple solution that addresses multiple challenges in a single step: affordable transportation, changing demographics, obesity and economic development….In a time of serious budget constraints, continued federal investment in active transportation infrastructure is essential to a balanced transportation system that meets the needs of all Americans. Contrary to preconceptions, those needs are at least as critical in small town America as in our larger cities.

Everyone, regardless of where they live, should be able to benefit from walking and biking infrastructure. 1000 Friends will continue to advocate for these wise investments throughout Oregon, including in rural parts of the state.

Read the report in full here.

Click here for coverage of the report and its implications for Congressional politics from Streetsblog.